By George Achia
Kenyan scientists working in the filed of biotechnology research have criticized a regulation on Genetically Modified (GM) labeling, saying the regulation lacks science basis.
The contentious regulations require that all genetically modified derived products are labeled from production to marketing. The regulations also impose highly punitive fines of Kenyan shillings 20 million and a 10 year jail term if a trader fails to comply.
These penalties have now left most millers and biotechnology stakeholders seeking a review of the newly gazetted regulations.
Speaking during an Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) forum held at Safari Club hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, Prof. Jesse Machuka of Kenyatta University’s biochemistry and biotechnology department said there is an urgent need to review the regulation to allow for timely commercialization of products currently under development.
“How regulations are passed and who are involved shows how little scientists in this country are regarded. This regulation does not appreciate the role of science and scientists on the critical role we are playing in technology development,” said Prof. Machuka.
The scientists faulted the regulation recently published on Kenya gazette supplement No. 17 of 2012, legal notice no. 40, noting the regulation is not original.
“Let us be original. We should not go and pick a document from other countries and impose it on Kenyans,” said Prof. Machuka, adding that there is no mandatory to do labeling as it will curtail free and fair trade in GM foods.
Dr. Charles Waturi of Kenya Agricultural Research Institute called for the need of an alternative regulation developed by scientist themselves.
“We need to fight back immediately. The weapon is to convene a meeting with the relevant stakeholders and come up with our version and confront the government,” said Dr. Waturi.
However, the scientists were challenged to come out of their laboratories and be proactive in drafting of legislations touching on science issues.
Speaking at the same forum, Cereal Millers Association (CMA) executive director Mrs. Paloma Fernandes said the regulation is too prohibitive and are likely to cause food shortages in the country.
“Due to the fear of contravening the labeling regulations, applications from millers to import GM products in Kenya will remain minimal. Labeling reduces incentive to adopt and grow GM maize,” said Mrs. Fernandes.
She observed that labeling of GM foods will generate an alarm and turns-away consumers by creating a sense of panic among the consumers.
The miller’s concerns comes at a time with fears Kenya could slump into a food crisis considering the imminent maize shortage triggered by the mysterious maize disease which has substantially reduced farmers’ harvests across the country.
“Labeling of genetically modified foods increases food prices for the already overburdened consumer,” said Fernandes, adding that most millers are now shying away from importing maize because of the punitive law.
“Until Kenya and Kenyans fully embrace GM technology including planting and processing of GM products, only then would millers be able to fully participate in the GM revolution,” she said.
The government has argued that labeling of food, feeds and ingredients derived from GM provides factual information to the consumers.
OFAB is a forum to discuss all aspects of agricultural biotechnology and to demystify the subject. Through the forum, scientists have an opportunity to impact policy makers on the need to mainstream science and technology into Africa’s development agenda