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Issues concerning GMO

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Issues concerning GMO
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Sunanda K. Chavan
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Issues concerning GMO - August 16th, 2011

The government has set tough procedures and punitive fines to ensure safe handling and movement of genetically modified (GM) crops, which it hopes will tackle perennial shortage of staple foods such as maize.
According to new regulations published by acting Higher Education, Science and Technology minister Hellen Sambili, any person intending to export, import or transit a product derived from genetically modified organisms must first obtain written approval from the National Biosafety Authority.

And even upon approval, such products would still be strictly monitored to ensure conformity with laid-out rules and regulations on areas such as packaging and declaration of the GM status.

Anyone who contravenes the set guidelines on the import, export and transit of GM products would face a fine of up to Sh20 million or a prison term not exceeding ten years, or both.

“The objective of these regulations is to ensure safe movement of genetically modified organisms into and out of Kenya while protecting human health and environment,” Prof Sambili said in a Legal Notice dated July 15 but published on August 5.

To ensure elaborate scrutiny, all applications for authority to handle GM products would be handled by an array of State agencies that deal with plant health regulation such as Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis).

The scrutiny of applications has also been accorded a lengthy grace period of up to five months in a bid to ensure comprehensiveness in the vetting task.

The new regulations said the Biosafety Authority shall within 14 days screen for completeness of applications and circulate to the relevant regulatory agencies for further information, comments or reasoned objections.

The Authority shall then communicate its final decision to the applicant within 150 days of receiving the application, but not earlier than 90 days of such receipt in order to allow for sufficient vetting.

It will cost an applicant Sh25,000 to table a request to import or export GM products.

The regulations indicated that GM products that shall have existed in the market for up to two decades without causing negative effects on human health as well as the environment would be exempted from regular approval cycles.

“Where a genetically modified organism has been released into the environment or placed on the market for twenty years with approval from authority,” the new regulations read, “and the authority establishes that monitoring data indicates no risk to human health and the environment, the genetically modified organism may continue to be released to the environment or placed on the market without further approval”.

Kenya last month approved laws allowing for the production and importation of GM crops, becoming the fourth country in Africa after South Africa, Egypt and BurkinaFaso to open up to products developed through this technology.

More African economies are conducting research on GM crops such as maize, rice and wheat that could lead to adoption. They include Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana.

Statistics showed that the country’s national maize stocks as at June 30 stood at 8.4 million, with the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) holding 2.5 million bags.

The Cabinet last month endorsed the importation of GM maize to bridge the deficit but pointed out that such shipments must be within the set guidelines.

But the point is how far are these guidelines gonna be in practice by them and to what extent !

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