Why GMO maize is safe to eat — MP Mutunga Kanyuithia

Agriculture committee chairman says soil lovers already eating the bacteria injected in maize

In Summary

•Lawmaker, a scientist, says BT bacteria doesn’t harm human beings in any way.

•Warns of importing BT maize as seed, says should be bought in by millers.

A Kenyan farmer inspects his maize plantation
A Kenyan farmer inspects his maize plantation
Image: FILE

Tigania West MP John Kanyuithia has dismissed critics of genetically modified (GMO) maize saying their fears are founded on a fallacy.

Dr Kanyuithia, an environmental scientist boasting of 18 years’ experience in gene researches, allayed the fears.

He said GMO maize is generated through injecting a bacteria, known in scientific parlance as bacillus thuringiensis (shortened as BT) – which is in the soil.

In an interview with the Star, the National Assembly Agriculture committee chairman said the bacterium has a gene that is poisonous to stalk borers.

Stalk borers is a worm that eats maize stalks and seeds, and has been blamed for losses farmers incur from time to time.

Kanyuithia stated the gene - that is poisonous to the stalk borer, has been isolated for more than 30 years and found to be injectable to a maize plant.

“When injected into a maize plant, the crop now becomes BT-maize…meaning it has that bacteria in it," the MP said.

“BT has the ability to kill the stalk borer, so the farmer doesn’t have to use pesticides to control the stalk borer. In other words, it is cheaper to grow maize by injecting this gene into a maize plant."

He explained that the bacteria doesn’t harm human beings in any way.

“The bacteria has no ability to combine with the human gene. It is eaten by human beings, it has no capacity to mess up with human beings,” he said.

“This has been proven scientifically. And that is why countries like America, Australia, Canada, and others have used BT Maize for a long time."

The scientist, however, warned that the government, in its bid to import GMO maize to plug in supply shortages, must ensure the imports don’t come in as seeds.

“Looking at the case in the table, we are not importing that maize to grow it…not as seed. If being imported as seed, it will definitely affect our seed bank, because it will contaminate our seed,” he said.

The MP said there should be regulations on how to handle BT Maize when it comes into the country – which he said they are waiting for the ministry to draw.

“It should be imported for purposes of direct consumption, which means it should be imported through the millers.When millers import, they mill, meaning it will have no opportunity to reach the fields to be planted,” Kanyuithia said.

He restated that Kephis as well as the National Biosafety Authority should be on high alert.

The Agriculture committee chairman added that it was time Kenyan universities with capacity to separate the gene to conduct researches to help raise BT maize.

“We should be able to isolate if we are going beyond consumption. Kenyatta University has that capacity and so are JKUAT, Kari and Kephis,” he said.

On the protests by leaders raising safety concerns, the MP said, “If people have been consuming this thing for 30 years and they have never had a problem, I don’t see why they should sensationalise the issue of BT.”

“I want to be specific. I am not talking about GMOs, I am talking about BT maize. It doesn’t affect human beings.”

On the raging imports debate, the MP quipped: “What we are importing is BT maize…which from what I know in my 18-year discourse on this subject, is not harmful.”

He added that global economies cannot be careless to introduce BT maize to their people only to kill them “as they are protective of their population.”

“Animal feed manufacturers had consulted us on allowing importation of BT Maize for animal feed and we okayed it. That could be where the new administration picked it from,” he said.

Kanyuithia added that the fear in the GM question has been that once GM seeds are allowed, monopolies may thrive.

“There are fears a company may capture the world by producing a seed which can affect the other seeds and lock the others out, therefore, become a monopoly seed producer,” he said.

He further argued that most of the religious groups attack genetic engineering because “they say scientists are interfering with the natural form of organisms.”

“That is one of the reasons it is opposed. But from what I know about the science that is available, and this discourse I have engaged in for 18 year, BT is not dangerous to human and to the environment. In any case, it is in our soils and people eat soil at times – so they eat it,” he said.

The lawmaker said there were already systems for gatekeeping GMO inflows into the country which can be utilized for controls.

“We have different gatekeepers. The Port Health, which we were able to analyze as a committee in the last session of Parliament, has clearly put together professionals to assess whatever comes in," he said.

“Besides, anything that can grow into Kenya, whether it is coming with some life in it, is supposed to be imported through the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis).”

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