A Kenyan court has dismissed a case challenging the importation of genetically modified foods, letting stand an earlier court ruling allowing the entry of so-called GMOs.
The Law Society of Kenya, the nation’s premier bar association that petitioned the court, argued that genetically modified food was unsafe for humans and that lifting a ban on its importation was unconstitutional.
But in a decision handed down Thursday, High Court Justice Oscar Angote ruled that the petitioners failed to prove that such food was harmful for human consumption.
Last October, the Kenyan government lifted a ban on the importation of genetically modified foods because of growing food insecurity and the inability of farmers to produce enough food to feed the population.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are produced using scientific methods, including recombinant DNA technology, which involves using enzymes and various laboratory techniques to manipulate and isolate DNA segments of interest. In animals, it requires reproductive cloning — making a genetic duplicate through somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Angote ruled there was no evidence to show that the modified food can harm human beings.
He also said there is a need for the population to trust the institutions set up to check the quality of food.
There is skepticism on that point. Cidy Otieno, the national coordinator of Kenya Peasants League, a lobby group acting on behalf of peasant farmers, said the country’s regulatory bodies cannot be trusted.
“In Kenya, for over one year, there was a product that was found on the shelves, Aromat,” he said. “It was being sold in Kenya from South Africa, yet it had GMOs, yet the country has not allowed for GMOs.
“So,” he said, “we realize that we have very weak regulations in Kenya.”
Agriculture accounts for one-third of Kenya’s gross domestic product, and farming lobby groups have expressed concerns about the future of agriculture in the country. They argue that U.S. farmers who use sophisticated technology and have government financial support could kill Kenya’s agriculture sector.
Kenya’s acceptance of GMO products also worries its neighbors Tanzania and Uganda, which do not allow them.
Tanzania said it would be vigilant against importing genetically modified food to its country.
The East African region has an agreement through the regional bloc, the East African Community, which allows the free flow of people and goods.
Nason’go Muliro, a Kenyan international relations and diplomacy lecturer, said the importation of GMOs into the region threatens trade relations between Kenya and its neighbors.
“There will be a return to the nontariff barriers because now it will not be about customs, but it will be about standardization,” Muliro predicted. For instance, he said, Tanzania might say, “We may not even accept the cereals from Kenya because of fear of GMO. … And that will bring friction.”
Otieno, of the Peasants League, said the planting of GMO seeds could also bring legal battles among farmers in Kenya and its neighbors.
“Those are some of the issues that we are raising, because a farmer in Busia, Kenya, and a farmer on the Busia border, how will they ensure that there’s no cross-pollination?” he asked. “[What] if I’m on the border and I’m growing GMOs and somebody’s in Uganda and is not growing GMOs and there’s pollination? We are exposing our people to companies so that they can be charged hefty penalties.”
The lobby group said it also has challenged the lifting of bans of GMO products and cultivation in the country, but that case is to be determined later this year.