Scientists seek release of GMO seeds to maize farmers

Scientists from a State agency have formally applied to the biosafety regulator for release of GMO maize that has been on trial for commercial production.

The application which follows several years of laboratory trials has been jointly submitted by the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

The scientists want these seeds to be released for mass production to Kenyan farmers. The seeds have been undergoing research at the Kiboko Farm in Machakos that was closely supervised by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA).

NBA has called for public participation in the decision-making process through submission of comments.

“The National Biosafety Authority hereby announces to the public the receipt of an application for consideration of environmental release of genetically modified insect-protected maize in Kenya,” said chief executive Willy Tonui.

Dr Tonui said the application is currently undergoing a science-based review process by NBA, government agencies and independent experts to ascertain that the proposed product is safe for human and animal health.

The journey to the production of the GM maize started in 2007 with the establishment of the laboratory at the defunct Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, which has since been rebranded Kalro.

READ: Experts accuse State of double standards over ban on GMOs

This was followed by field trials in 2012 that have seen production of seeds whose distribution has been restricted to the facility.

The last and final stage is now the commercialisation of the seeds, which if approved by regulatory bodies such as the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, will pave the way for farmers to access this variety for the first time.

The ban on GMOs in the country was effected in 2012 when a task force formed by then Public Health minister Beth Mugo declared that GMO foods were unfit for human consumption, basing the decision on earlier studies that linked the crops to cancerous tumours in rats.

But a global scientific journal retracted an article that it had published earlier that linked genetically modified food to cancer, prompting GMO proponents to call for the lifting of the ban.