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14 July 2011
The Ministry of Health yesterday admitted some genetically modified foods may be harmful. Minister Beth Mugo said all GM foods being imported must be tested then labeled for consumers to make informed choices. "Studies have shown that consumption of GMO food products, while some may be completely safe, can also under some circumstances cause allergies. Toxicity and nutritional changes in GMO foods must also be keenly monitored," she said yesterday.
She said those planning to import or transit the controversial foods must first get a permit from the ministry and the National Biosafety Authority. "Any nutritional change associated with the genetic modification must also be fully disclosed and associated risks fully addressed," she said.
The ministry statement comes after the Ministry of Science and Technology gazetted regulations to allow importation and cultivation of the foods. Chief public health officer Kepha Ombacho said no traders have so far approached the ministry seeking importation permits. Yesterday, Mugo walked a tight rope saying she neither supports nor opposes GMOs but only wanted to ensure Kenyans were eating safe food.
She said labeling will be mandatory in accordance with the Food, Drugs and Chemical Substances Act. "Labeling will provide information regarding the presence or absence of genetically modified ingredients," she said. "The information must be factual, accurate and clearly intended to enlighten consumers; it must not mislead or deceive."
Forty to 50 countries around the world have mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods, including many European countries, Japan, Korea, and China. But until they agreed to do so last week, USA - the main source of genetic engineering technology - and Canada did not require GMOs to be labeled.
Activists across the world have been campaigning for mandatory labeling saying consumers have a right to know the kind of foods they buy. The ministry however said Kenya lacks adequate equipment and human resource to test toxicity in different GM products.
This means the country may rely on certification from source markets when allowing importation. Chairman of the Kenya Medical Research Institute Dr Mwinga Chokwe said although most genetically modified foods were safe, scientists were still doing more research because some effects are visible only after more than 10 years.
Genetically engineered products usually carry a new gene, which may not be related to the crop, to achieve a desired trait. Scientists may for instance introduce a gene to make GM maize drought or pest resistant.