Universities defend the consumption of GMOs
30 September 2014, 21:53
Nairobi – Four public universities offering the Biotechnology course have thrown their weight behind the consumption of the controversial Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) food products whose usage was banned in 2011.
The Biotechnology departmental heads from the University of Nairobi, Egerton, Kenyatta and Jomo Kenyatta Universities argued that GMO products are the ultimate solution to the current food insecurity in the nation since the government is funding their universities to conduct research.
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Explaining the need to consume GMO products to the National Assembly’s Agriculture, Livestock and Cooperatives committee presided over by Ugunja MP, Opiyo Wandayi, the Biotechnology departmental heads said the products undergo rigorous safety measures during production, and properly checked by the Biosafety regulator before allowed in the market.
“We understand that there have been controversies behind the GM foods from the anti-GMO groups and the public on how the products are developed. There is no manipulation to the extracted genes in making the products and the scientists involved in the production, ensure toxic substances to people or animals are removed before taken to the market,” said Richard Mulwa, an Associate Professor of Horticulture in Egerton University.
“Regulations on the safety of GM foods start from the field to the production laboratory and the supermarkets. Kenyans should embrace the capacity of our local experts producing GMO products and the internal regulatory bodies,” he added.
The universities’ team said the government’s ban of the products in the country is a blow to students pursuing the Biotechnology course whose aim is developing new varieties of food products through scientific research and added that the move limits innovation.
“The government’s funding through the Science and Technology Development Act to universities increased from 1% to 2%. We were given KES 18million by the government to develop new variety of GM sweet potatoes. It is not right for the same government to ban the use of GMO products yet we are also developing transgenic maize and cassavas,” said Richard Oduor, the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Senior Lecturer in Kenyatta University.
Countries such as Tanzania and Burkina Faso have embraced the use of GMO foods and the team expressed their fear that Kenya, being the highest food producer in East Africa may end up lagging behind in adopting the scientific innovations in food production.
Despite the government’s ban, there are no locally produced GMO foods and the universities departmental heads distanced themselves from products impounded in the market saying all are imports.
“The universities stand is that GMOs are safe for consumption. Our support for GMO is for scientific reasons to meet the current challenges not for personal and commercial interests. There is the need to strengthen institutions for policing and regulation of GMO foods and we call on you (MPs) to support us in their production to solve hunger challenges,” said Justus Onguso, Senior Research Fellow Center for Biotechnology in University of Nairobi.
Contrary to injecting some growth hormones to crops and livestock such as chicken to grow bigger and faster, Onguso reiterated that GMO production is entirely the transfer of genes from one organism to another to increase their production with minimal or no side effects to consumers.
“Media reports showing that our farmers are using ARVs or growth hormones to chicken means are in big problem of their minimal produce and we are bringing to them our new technology of GMO foods to resolve the problem,” said Onguso.
According to the team, maize disease that has been on rise in the country would be tackled by coming up with GMO seeds that are both disease and drought resistant
“The current situation of our children becoming obese is not as a result of consuming GMO foods but the change in eating lifestyles. The more one eats, the more the body cells receive that food even if is in excess then stored in some unwanted parts that leads to the abnormal growth,” warned Onguso.
The Agriculture committee had earlier dismissed the Ministry of Health Taskforce’s research finds to establish whether the GMOs were safe for consumption after coming up with shallow and inconsistence explanations.
The committee members agreed with the universities’ team to convene a meeting for an in-depth discussion in the GMO production issue and challenged the team to constitute a consortium where they can make agreeable decisions on scientific research findings to avoid divisions.
However, Oduor revealed that they have already set up the consortium dubbed the Kenya Universities Biotechnology to unite all researchers and enable them in coming up with mutual scientific research projects.
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