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July 07, 2011

Kenya to attempt to prevent imported GM maize use as seed

by Gatonye Gathura

Kenyan millers licensed to import genetically modified maize must ensure the grain does not end up as seed.

Any lapse that could result in the seeds being planted will attract a fine of not less than Sh20 million or a jail term of 10 years, or both, a government agency said on July 5.

If this happens unintentionally, the importer will meet the costs of removing the seeds from circulation.

The acting head of the National Biosafety Authority, Dr Roy Mugiira, said the organisation would ensure such maize was only released as flour.

He hinted that one option being considered was to mill the maize at the point of landing. Initially, there were plans to sterilise GM seeds to stop them from germinating after harvest but this technology, called terminator, was never commercialised following widespread opposition.

The head of biotechnology at the Kenya Agricultural Research Centre, Dr Simon Gichuki, said the possible GM maize targeted by importers would be from South Africa and does not contain the terminator technology.

The maize being targeted by the millers has been engineered to develop resistance against weeds and insect pests. Another type of GM maize is being tested in Kenya for drought resistance but it is not yet ready for commercialisation.

If the current biosafety laws are to be followed strictly, then the earliest the first GM maize can land in the country legally is around October. According to the Biosafety Act, the regulatory authority will communicate its final decision of approval or rejection of an importing licence not earlier than three months after receiving the application.

Mugiira said no application has been considered as the authority has not yet published the import guidelines.

After allowing an importer to bring a genetically modified organism on the market, the law also allows any person to submit a written opposition within 30 days from the date the notice is posted.

An official at the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services said no genetically modified maize had been brought into the country yet.

The Nation

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