The decision by President William Ruto’s government to lift the ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) crops and the announcements that the country will allow importation of GMO maize have sparked public uproar, with concerns that such moves might endanger human and animal life.
Not new to controversy, Trade Cabinet Secretary, Moses Kuria upset many Kenyans and fellow leaders with his callous remarks on GMOs stating that the GMO foods and crops would just be one among the many things that kill Kenyans, therefore, no harm in adding them to the list.
It is evident that there are fears among Kenyans over the potential health risks from GMO foods. Whether backed by evidence or not, these fears and concerns among Kenyans must be addressed seriously by the government and not countered by insensitive comments such as the ones from the Trade CS.
Over 10 civil society organisations have come together stating that the government acted too fast and should have first constituted a body to undertake public participation and awareness creation before implementation. While others have called on the government to reinstate the ban and pursue alternative solutions to the food security challenges.
The issues surrounding the side effects of GMO foods should be addressed before they are allowed into the country, consumers must be allowed free choice.
Scientifically, production of GMO crops poses a high risk of disruption of ecosystems and biodiversity as the traits produced from the engineering of genes can result in the favouring of one organism, eventually altering the natural process of gene flow.
Several studies also indicate that GMOs may cause common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal or reproductive effects and could alter the haematological, biochemical and immunologic parameters.
Farmers in the North Rift have come out to oppose the move by the government, with their legislators decrying that an influx of GMOs risks distorting the market, which might prompt the farmers to cheaply dispose of theirs.
Many countries have banned GMOs including France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Poland, Denmark, Malta, Slovenia, Italy, Croatia and neighbours Tanzania and Uganda.
The issue requires much more honest and evidence-based scrutiny to build public confidence, but it should not be imposed on Kenyans as it seems to be the case.
Public education is also necessary to allay fears connected with GMOs because the truth is, many Kenyans are learning about the acronym GMO for the first time. Therefore, the government should give a rationale as to why it is choosing to revert the ban that was enforced ten years ago as a move to combat the ravaging drought and food shortage while alternative solutions have not been explored exhaustively.
Like the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) that was implemented despite several complaints that the process was rushed and never followed due process of the law on public participation, the government seems to be following in the footsteps of its predecessor to apply the same technique in pushing GMOs down Kenyans’ throats.
Additionally, the move by President Ruto to try and reinstate the position of Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) that was declared unconstitutional by the High Court in June last year casts doubt on the promise by the government to follow the rule of law.
Efforts to fight the ongoing drought and food shortage should not be used to strip of Kenyans their right to choose. While measures are needed urgently and desperately to aid the 4.4 million Kenyans projected to face hunger in this last quarter of the year, critical decisions such as reintroducing GMOs should not be made in a rush.
This new administration made a promise to lead Kenyans and be guided by their needs and priorities. To see it hurriedly overturn such a crucial decision barely 100 days into governing is worrying and might set a bad precedent for the next five years.
Article 1 of the Constitution states clearly who the sovereign power belongs to, let it not be stripped to serve interests that are not of mwananchi.
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