GMOs are safe, politicians misleading public, say experts

Process of development is so stringent that when finally approved, food is safe to eat and for environment.

In Summary
  • Professor Richard Oduor, Registrar Research at Kenyatta University, assured Kenyans that GMO is safe.
  • Insulin for diabetics and Covid-19 vaccine are genetically modified.
How corn is genetically modified
How corn is genetically modified

The lifting of the ban on genetically modified organisms has sparked off significant discussions across Kenya.

The Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium says the debate has so far been dominated by experts versus NGOs and politicians.

The experts further says that the debate has been characterised by divergent opinions mainly over health fears, socioeconomic considerations, political interests and misconceptions on GM technology.

Professor Richard Oduor, Registrar Research at Kenyatta University, assured Kenyans that GMO is safe and has been in existence for the last 26 years.

“It has taken more than 15 years to develop the GMO maize technology in Kenya. The process of development of GM from proof of concept to commercialisation is so stringent that when it is finally approved, it is safe to eat and also for the environment,” he said.

He spoke during a consultative meeting with experts in nutrition, toxicology, social science, economics, environmental science and health.

Oduor explained that the biotechnology being used in GM maize is takes advantage of a gene from a bacterium that already exists and we eat it in normal foods.

“We need to rely on scientists, regulators and government to help look for solutions to solve problems for all our benefit. Those who are against GMO must ask themselves if they are comfortable with the insulins they get for diabetics and Covid-19 vaccine which are genetically modified,” said Oduor.

“We take drugs with documented side effects and here we are discussing GMO with imaginary side effects. We must be fair to the technology, and the government should move fast and rally with the scientists to keep tab with the technology and not be left behind by the rest of the world,” he said.

The university researchers said political leaders should be more educated on GMO and other agricultural technologies so that they can help in demystifying the misconceptions surrounding the biotechnology.

Prof Ratemo Michieka, chairman National Research Fund, said there has been a lot of misconceptions and misinformation on GM since the ban was lifted four months ago.

“I must admit that communicating science is not easy for many of us and thus the end users suffer from misunderstanding. This is largely attributed to lack of effective platforms to disseminate the accurate information on biotechnology. We need to equip parliamentarians with the necessary information to enhance their capacity to convey the same to the general public,” he said.

He said there is also a gap in extension service which is key in passing such information to the farmers and general public.

“But we must ensure the information is well packaged to build confidence to the farmers and consumers on the technology,” he added. 

Gordon Nguka, director Kenya Nutritionists and Dieticians Institute, said GMO foods are safe but there is need to strengthen governance structure of the key institutions in order for Kenyans to be comfortable with the technology.

These institutions include the National Biosafety Authority, Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Ministry of Health among other institutions that play a key role in ensuring food safety.

“Institutional governance structures need to be supported to play their inspection mandate well. Value chain players have been complaining of presence of substandard food imported from other global markets which they attribute to low regulatory,” said Nguka.

The nutritionist said the country is ready for GMO products because mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that crops likeGM maize pass through properly regulated systems and aresafe.

“The GM products and crops are safe for our consumption. Policy makers should strengthenexisting institutional bodies such as NBA, KEBs, NACOSTI (which regulates research), National Research Fund-NRF (which funds research) and ministries of health and agriculture so that they can do their mandate and ensure food safety,” Nguka said.

Peris Onono, executive dean, School of Business, Economic and Tourism at the Kenyatta University, said researchers should come up with homegrown GM technologies that have been done and tested in Kenya.

“This will help build the confidence of the farmers and consumers. The Government should also build the capacity of universities and scientists in the country to produce homegrown technology so that our seeds will come from the local market and not from outsides,” she said. 

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