OPINION

Kenya must resist pressure to legalise GMOs

Timothy Kibowen

The recent decision by an American court to fine genetically modified organisms (GMOs) manufacturing giant Monsanto $289 million (Sh28.9 billion) for the damage caused to the health of a groundkeeper who used its herbicide known as Roundup should catch the attention of policymakers around the world.

The court found that Monsanto had not done enough to warn customers about the cancer-causing properties of the weed killer, which is found in many products including cereals and oats.

The verdict has attracted attention outside America, including in Vietnam where there is strong public support for a government move to demand that Monsanto compensate its citizens for not disclosing the dangers of its products.

Kenya, like other African countries, has come under intense pressure in recent years to allow GMOs to be cultivated and imported into the country.

The American lobby groups that push for the adoption of GMOs claim they are doing this in the interest of Africans.

Of course, groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, USAid and the Programme for Biosafety Systems seek to promote American GMO corporations interests. It is easy to see a strong profit motive for their actions.

Efforts to get Kenya to lift the ban on GMOs have intensified in recent years. According to a report in the Mail & Guardian Africa, Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority received applications from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation to release Bt maize, and another application from the American GMO giant Monsanto’s Kenyan subsidiary to release Bt cotton.

Bt crops have been bioengineered with the moth and butterfly-killing bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.

Kenya had good reasons for banning GMO crops in 2012.

Scientific studies have illustrated the dangers of GMO crops to human health. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer published a study indicating that glyphosate, a primary ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, which is used in large-scale commercial agriculture for GMO crops and is accumulated in plants, was carcinogenic for animals and could be carcinogenic for humans too.

Studies have not just found that GMOs are harmful. Just like the smoking industry, research has uncovered that major GMO producers have engaged in efforts to cover up the harm of their products.

In May 2017, the leading French newspaper Le Monde published an investigation about the efforts of one of an American corporation which is one of the world’s biggest GMO producers to cover up internal findings on the harm that GMO plants can cause to humans.

Kenya has experienced an upsurge in cases of cancer in recent years. The Kenya Cancer Registry estimates that the death rate from the disease will double by 2026. It is now well known that consumption of organic foods, as opposed to genetically modified crops which are now commonplace in the West, is one of the ways to guard against the disease.

Allowing GMOs into Kenya would carry a big economic cost. So far, only three African countries Burkina Faso, Sudan and South Africa have allowed importation of GMOs. The effect has been disastrous.

Many agricultural producers who cultivate GMO crops  have become dependent on international corporations. Monopolies that supply seeds not only fix prices but also dictate agricultural sector policies. There are no prizes for guessing that the real aim is to maximise profit and not to “feed hungry people” as they claim in their messaging campaigns.

Kenya would be making a big mistake if it agreed to adopt GMOs. It would be safer to join the example of Nigeria where more than 100 NGOs, representing more than five million farmers have taken a firm stand against GMOs.

The National Biosafety Authority should not bow to the lobbyists from Washington and allow adoption of crops which can cause harm to Kenyans. It should learn from the verdict in California and keep Kenyans safe by banning all GMO products.

— The writer is a researcher at a regional think tank

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