By Agatha Ngotho
Dr Willy Kiprotich Tonui is the chief executive officer (CEO) of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA). He is one of the leading scientists in Africa and the only Registered Biosafety Professional (RBP). Prior to his appointment, he served as a Principal Research Officer and Environment Coordinator (Immunology), Health and Safety at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). He spoke to Star Reporter Agatha Ngotho about his role in the NBA.
Briefly tell us the mandate of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA).
The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) was established pursuant to the provisions of the Biosafety Act No. 2 of 2009. The overarching mandate of NBA is to exercise general supervision and control over development, transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) so as to ensure human safety and animal health and provide adequate protection to the environment.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are defined as those organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered through genetic engineering in a way that is not possible through traditional breeding or natural selection methods. The genetic engineering (GE) technology often referred to as biotechnology, allows carefully selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another and also between non-related species.
In Agriculture, for example, GE technologies have been used to create genetically modified (GM) plants that are then grown and cultivated to produce GM food crops. The main GM crops currently approved and on the international market have been modified to acquire the ability to protect themselves against destructive plant pests, diseases, viruses and for tolerance to certain herbicides.
Do we have commercially available GM food or feed in Kenya approved by NBA?
We would like to inform the public that NBA has not yet approved any GMO for commercial use in Kenya and so far we have not received an application for GM commercialisation. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) is experimenting on GM cotton (Bt cotton) and when they are finally ready they may come to us for commercialisation and there is a possibility that we may receive an application this year.
But even when this comes to us, it will take 4 to 6 months or so to approve as provided by the law. The Environmental Regulations 2011 that is going to guide the process of application demands that we seek public opinion and we will do this through the press for 21 days.
If the application is approved, the organisation seeking the application is given a permit for a period not exceeding 10 years. We are ready for any application that will come our way and we will do it with the public safety and interest in mind.
The Authority has approved genetically modified products for importation into Kenya for humanitarian assistance and relief supplies during drought seasons. These include: corn-soya blend and maize meal.
These approvals were granted after a food safety assessment by expert reviewers concluded that the food products are as safe as the conventional counterparts.
What is the status on transit products through Kenya?