Saturday, Feb 28th 2015

Lift ban on GMOs, scientists tell state

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY JOHN MUCHANGI

Scientists have asked the government to lift the year-long ban on genetically modified foods (GMOs) after the collapse of a study that linked them to cancer.

The study, which prompted the ban in Kenya and angered GMOs advocates across the world, was withdrawn last week.

“We were indeed surprised and disappointed that the government was mis-advised by individuals or institutions that deliberately hid the truth,” the scientists said in a joint statement read by University of Nairobi researcher Dr Joel Ochieng.

Some of them threatened to boycott a taskforce formed last month by Health Secretary James Macharia to determine whether the ban should be lifted.

“It is a waste of public funding to form a taskforce on something that doesn't exist. It should be disbanded. I will not go to the hearings,” said Dr Florence Wambugu, head of Africa Harvest, a GMO lobby.

The government banned importation of GMOs over health fears last year after the respected Food and Chemical Toxicology journal published the controversial study by French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini.

It showed that rats fed on GM maize and Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide developed tumours while others suffered liver failure and died prematurely.

The journal retracted the publication last week saying the study was inconclusive and that Seralini had used too few rats in the study.

“Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication,” said the editor, Wallace Hayes.

The redaction is a big blow to the anti-GMO movement because the study was their best “proof” that GMOs cause tumours and other diseases.

Thika-based African Biodiversity Network claimed the scientists asking the government to lift the ban were sponsored by biotechnology companies.

“It's bowing to pressure. Kenyan scientists are being pressed by the same industry that funds them. We challenge our scientists to show us how Séralini failed by giving us their own research,” said ABN coordinator Gathuru Mburu. Kenyatta University geneticist Dr Richard Okoth said the ban might affect biotechnology studies in Kenya.

“There are five universities offering biotech-related programmes. What do you tell these students about the future of their careers?” he said.

The scientists, drawn from universities and local biotech organisations, spoke at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Nairobi.

Articles in scientific journals are usually peer reviewed to meet standards of quality, and scientific validity. A reduction seriously dents the validity of the study.