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July 07, 2011

Kenya makes it legal to produce and import GM foods

by Mark Denge and Beatrice Gachenge

Kenya has become the fourth country in Africa to open up to genetically modified (GM) crops after approving laws to allow their production and importation.

East Africa's leading economy follows South Africa, a leader in the continent on biotechnology and a major exporter of GM maize, as well as Egypt and Burkina Faso, but it faces growing resistance from lobbyists against the move.

In a Legal Notice dated June 22, acting Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Hellen Sambili said the laws would come into effect on July 1, ending restrictions on GM maize and other various products in the country.

"In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 1 of the Biosafety Act, 2009, the Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology appoints the first (of) July, 2011, as the date on which the act shall come into operation," said the Legal Notice seen by Reuters on Monday.

Kenya's state-run National Safety Authority last week said it was in the process of creating a legal framework to approve importation of GM maize into the country to mitigate a looming shortage. .

The law will open the Kenyan market, which faces frequent grain deficits, to major suppliers such as South Africa whose exports were affected by the previous ban.

The Kenyan government is anticipating a shortfall in the supply of maize of 14.8 million 90-kg bags in the 2011/12 season due to drought.

But lobby groups opposed to gene alteration, noting health concerns such as development of mutations and allergic reactions in humans, said they plan to oppose the law.

"We are going to hold a demonstration in Mombasa by the end of this week to boycott importation and consumption of GM," said Betty Mwasia an officer at Telum Kenya, a lobby group that advocates organic farming. Mombasa is the port city and gateway into east Africa.

"We are also considering a court injunction to stop the GM shipment," she said.

On Friday, another anti-GM group held a demonstration in the capital, opposing the laws allowing GM into the country.

The Legal Notice added that it was illegal to conduct any activity involving GM organisms without the written approval of the National Safety Authority.

"Genetically Modified Organism means any organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology techniques," the Act said in part.

Other African economies are conducting research on GM crops such as maize, rice and wheat that could prove to be the first step towards adoption including Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana.

Reuters

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