Soko miller blames regulators for any GM maize in market

Date Posted: 
Monday, November 3, 2014

Thika-based Capwel Industries is challenging the authenticity of recent tests by the National Biosafety Authority, which last week claimed to have found GM content in their Soko maize meal.

The miller put out a public notice Monday saying all its grain came from local sources, including the National Cereals and Produce Board. They, however, noted that “there has been an influx of (Kenya Government-certified) supply from both Uganda and Tanzania over the past few years”.

This would suggest that any confirmed contamination of maize flour (unga) with GM content would have to be far more widespread than currently acknowledged. The claim could spark demands for further testing of unga products produced by other millers to track down the source of the GM maize.

Capwell Industries implies that if they inadvertently purchased GM grain, it would only be because relevant ministries and regulatory bodies failed to prevent its entry into the country.

“We do not have the (technical) capacity to confirm whether local farmers are growing maize seeds with GM content or check whether cross-border maize has contents of the same,” the miller said in an unsigned public notice. “However, we remain committed to following all the rules and regulations.”

A Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services official takes some samples from imported maize at Mombasa port for genetically modified content analysis. Photo/Business Daily

They lay the blame, if any, at the door of the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Health, Agriculture and Finance ministries, among others.

The biosafety authority has handed over the matter to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and called for criminal prosecutions. The firm faces a fine of up to Sh20 million while its executives risk a jail term of up to ten years if charged and found guilty. Capwell, which has been in business 15 years, says its lawyers are looking into “the authenticity of this malicious (biosafety authority) report”.

GM foods are those produced from organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering. The long term effects of consuming such foods are unknown. This has led to a widespread campaign against the so-called ‘Frankenstein foods’ which many scientists dismiss as ill-informed. Dozens of countries around the world allow the sale of GM foods for human consumption but they generally require it to be labelled as such. The United States is an exception requiring no labels.

Despite facing frequent grain shortages, Kenya has restrictions on GM maize that have barred major exporters, including South Africa, from entering the local market.

The biosafety authority recently reported detecting GMO content in Unilever Kenya’s Aromat seasoning. They also flagged Bokomo, a grain and oatmeal cereal, imported from the UK by Debenham & Fear Ltd.

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