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Kenya Finally Approves Biosafety Law
13 December 2008
Henry Neondo
ASNS News

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges ASNA News as the source of this article: http://africasciencenews.org/asns/


The Kenyan Parliament overwhelmingly passed the Biosafety Bill on December 9, 2008 after close to 15 years of rigorous and extensive stakeholder consultations.

The country now joins the ranks of other African countries that have enacted biosafety laws including Cameroon, Tanzania, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Namibia, Mali and Zimbabwe.

The Bill is a fundamental instrument to comply with requirements of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and safeguard Kenyans against unintended use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) especially transboundary movements.

The Bill was supported by Cabinet ministers and other parliamentarians who debated it from a highly informed perspective.

Minister for Agriculture William Ruto said that "The benefits arising out of the Bill are enormous. It gives this country a comprehensive and coordinated manner in which to tap benefits from research and enhance self sufficiency in food production”.

The law seeks to facilitate responsible research and commerce in GM products through a transparent science-based and predictable process.

Contributing to the debate, Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology Sally Kosgey stressed "We should not be afraid of science or be afraid to move forward. The country is struggling for food and we want to get our scientists not to live in Geneva and elsewhere, but to have the protection of the law and do research here in their own country”.

Dr. Kosgey cautioned the media against sensationalizing matters of national interest but instead to consult and cover issues objectively and in a balanced manner.

The Minister’s remarks are partly due to media reports quoting opposition against the Bill from the members of civil society who maintain that the Bill as it is does not cater for the welfare of Kenyans but multi-national seed companies.

According to opponents of the Biosafety Bill, the document does not in its present form represent an adequate, robust and comprehensive biosafety regime designed to protect the environment, human health and biodiversity from the risks posed by GMOs and its related activities.

They say the document is foremost, a piece of draft legislation that seeks to put in place, a mere permitting system designed to approve applications for the contained use; import; export, placing on the market and release into the environment of GMOs.

The underlying imperative of the Bill is the promotion of genetic engineering and not biosafety.According to Cindano Gakuru, a legal officer, important provisions of the Biosafety Protocol that form the cornerstones of biosafety regulation have been omitted from the Bill in its entirely.

He points out exclusion of the Precautionary Principle (Articles 10(6) and 11(8) of the Cartegena Protocol) and Public Participation (Article 23 of the Cartegena Protocol).

He pointed out that the Biosafety Protocol establishes international rules that are considered to be a "floor" rather than a "ceiling" for the drafting of a regulatory framework. “In other words, the rules of the Protocol are the minimum standards for achieving the objectives of the Protocol. It is therefore extremely worrying that the Kenyan Bill has not made an attempt to fully implement the minimum standards established by the Protocol”, he said.

Gakuru notes that the Bill has failed to deal with traceability and labelling and liability and redress. In this regard, the African Union's African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology ("African Model Law") does not appear to have been used at all, as a basis for the drafting of this Bill.

“This is contrary to the decision of the Heads of States of the African Union's meeting in Maputo July 2003, which urged member states to use the Model Law as a basis for its biosafety regulatory framework”, he said.

The law now awaits presidential assent and once gazetted, modalities of establishing the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) will be initiated to steer regulatory approvals and decision-making in moving on-going confined field trials of GM insect- resistant cotton, maize and other products to the next level of commercialization.

The passing of the Bill is a major milestone because of the strategic importance of Kenya in Africa and the international community.

In September 2008, the government launched a five-year National Biotechnology Awareness Strategy (BioAWARE-Kenya) as a mechanism for improving public understanding and awareness of biotechnology through dissemination of accurate, timely and balanced information.

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