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GM foods must come with freedom of choice 

by kenya-tribune

Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria has reignited the controversial debate on Genetically Modified Organisms with his weirdly communicated attempt to justify GM maize imports.

According to the CS, there are many other things that kill Kenyans, and there would be nothing wrong with adding GM maize to the list. This has always been a sensitive matter, as there are genuine concerns about the possible side effects of consuming GM foods.

Mr Kuria’s public declaration of the importation of millions of bags of duty-free GM maize was announced in a rather clumsy manner. But he has stated that the government he serves is ready to face the backlash arising from the decision.

It is the first time the country has cleared GM maize imports to address a raging national food crisis, with more than four million Kenyans facing starvation. However, an influx of GMOs risks distorting the market, as farmers in the North Rift breadbasket may be prompted to cheaply dispose of theirs. Besides, GMOs have been a thorny issue for many years over safety concerns.

Indeed, it was only last month that the Ruto administration lifted a 10-year ban on open cultivation and importation of GM crops. CS Kuria has upset many by declaring that “we have so many things that can kill us in the country. Being in this country, you’re a candidate for death”. But even his chilling assertion cannot wish away the public apprehension about GMOs.

There are fears over potential health risks from GMOs that cannot be so casually dismissed. The election campaign-type rhetoric is not helping matters. The fears, whether real or unfounded, must be seriously addressed. As happens in developed countries, GM foods on supermarket shelves must be clearly labelled. Even if it comes as relief food, the recipients must be allowed the free choice.

Farmers also fear that clearing GMOs could disempower them as multinationals strictly control the production and distribution of seeds. These powerful conglomerates are known to also influence policy and decision-making even in developed countries.

Kenyans must resist the aggressive push for GM crops until the issue of side effects is adequately addressed. And even then, freedom of choice is paramount. 

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