As the debate on the merits and demerits of the government’s decision to lift the moratorium on genetically engineered food and feed products, it’s important to have a historical perspective on what has influenced global regulatory positions on the technology.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity was adopted in 2000 to provide an international regulatory framework for products of modern biotechnology. At that time genetic engineering (GE) was still a new technology and the protocol understandably took a precautionary approach to its regulation.
Countries were free to adopt their national laws in the spirit of the protocol. Countries like the US contend that GE is not an inherent risker technology than classical breeding, where novel hazards would be introduced, but involves familiar risks. In this case any potential risks can be dealt with by applying their existing regulatory processes.
The restrictive approach, that also has anti-GE sentiment, taken by European countries subject GE products to heightened scrutiny not based on the risk they present but rather primarily on process used to create them.
Geopolitically, Kenya has been influenced more by Europe perhaps due to our historical and trade relations, which invariably shaped our biotechnology conversation. It is instructive to note that scientists in Europe have over the years strongly disagreed with this restrictive approach, and now European politicians are starting to rethink the European Union’s long-standing opposition to GE and gene-edited crops.
This is apparently driven by the manifestation of climate change in the form of hot and dry conditions that have wreaked havoc on Europe’s agriculture but also because of the war in Ukraine that is straining supply chains and exposing the vulnerabilities in Europe’s food system. Incidentally, despite the restrictive approach, Europe imports tonnes of GE products to be used in the feed industry.
The point I am making is that as a country we need to inwardly interrogate our societal problems and possible solutions with our interests in mind and not be influenced by geopolitics. And the debate must be sober.
The writer is a researcher and food security expert. [email protected]