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August 29, 2011

Kenya: new rules for safe handling of GMOs

by Allan Odhiambo

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.

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.”

“No GMO maize should be used as seeds under any circumstances. All flour produced from GMO maize must be clearly labeled as a product of GMO maize,” it said.

Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta has also zero-rated duty on maize imports for the rest of this year as part of efforts to guarantee cheaper supplies to consumers.

Business Daily Africa

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