The GM industry is pushing to reverse the Kenyan government decision to ban GM imports and remove genetically engineered food from the market.

GM Education, 13 December 2012

GM lobby groups, research bodies, and some NGOs are working together to overturn the Presidential decree and cabinet decisions taken in November.

According to the GM and agri-business online magazine, AgProfessional, these include: Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, African Agricultural Technology Foundation,  International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, Program for Biosafety Systems, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, Biotechnology Trust Africa, Seed Trade Association of Kenya, Cereal Millers Association, and the East African Grains Council.

On November 8th, Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s President made the decision to ban GMO imports into the country “until it can be made absolutely sure that they are safe for public health.” This was followed on Nov. 21, by a Ministry of Public Health order to public health officials to remove all GM foods from the market.

In a statement the government said, "The ban will remain in effect until there is sufficient information, data and knowledge demonstrating that GMO foods are not a danger to public health.” Funding for research and laboratory analysis will continue in order to provide up to date information about safety and environmental impacts.

Disappointing the United States

However, the GM industry argues that the ban undermines Kenya's legal and regulatory system for agricultural biotechnology codified in its National Biosafety Act of 2009. Whilst pro-GM scientists feel that the ban will halt investment in Kenyan universities from large multinational companies and hinder what they see is the modernisation of Kenyan agriculture through GM technology.

The United States had been looking to Kenya as a partner and a leader and advocate for GM in the East African region. AgProfessional believes that the ban will lead Washington to "question Kenya's commitment to making regulatory decisions based on sound science."

On the other hand there seems to be widespread support for the ban. The African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a Kenya based research network, supports the steps taken by the government and calls for the ban's strict implementation.

"The ban should be strictly implemented and the regulatory institutions should be empowered to enable them do assessment on all imports to safeguard against the bypassing of the law," says Gathuru Mburu, ABN's coordinator.

A test case for non-GM Africa

Another organisation, the Kenya Biodiversity Network, has joined an appeal to the African Union (AU) to discuss a ban on the cultivation, import and export of GM crops throughout Africa at the next AU summit, in January 2013.

This African Civil Society Statement has been signed by over 400 African organisations representing small-scale farmers, faith-based organisations, social movements, non-governmental organisations, organic producers, consumers, business people, and ordinary citizens, has been sent to the Permanent Representative Council of the AU.

For these groups the concern is not just an issue of food safety. Loss of genetic biodiversity, increase in the use of pesticides and other inputs and threats to the livelihoods of small farmers are also seen as significant problems with GM technology.

The Kenyan ban is being watched carefully by both sides. Although the government can call on the services of only three biosafety officers - which will make policing its ban very challenging – it is highly significant for the future of GM in Africa.