Visiting US scientist's remarks draw heated debate on GM

By Henry Neondo
A suggestion by the visiting US scientist, Prof Bruce M. Chassy that Kenya should go slow on the global requirements to label GM food products in supermarkets elicited a heated debate yesterday at the beginning of a two day workshop held at the University of Nairobi.
According to Prof Chassy, the requirement for labeling products in the supermarket was just one tool people who hold opposing views on biotechnology want to use to further isolate GM products wherever they can find.
But Dr Gideon Nyamasyo of the University of Nairobi and an environmental speciailist accused Prof Chassy of wanting Kenyans not to be cautious on GM regardless of the postive promises it may hold.
He said that Prof Chassy is no different from many other American pro-GMO people who see no evil in a technology that is still in the process of being defined.
“Prof Chassy’s ilk tend to highlight things we already know but sweep under the carpet those things that we do not know and ought to”, he said adding that Prof Chassy is behaving more like the mouthpiece of the big biotech companies.
According to participants, Kenya should move in the direction of the UN’s Protocol on Convention on biological diversity’s article 8 (j) which propagates precautionary principle and demands for an advanced information on any imported genetically living organism from one state to another.
Prof Chassy however said that all trusted US government agencies on food and drugs have not shown any side effect on GM and cautioned Kenyans not to buy into EU controversies on GM as historically, Europeans are pessimists, often are opposed to whatever their governments say and trust activists more than governments.
He added that scientific evidence from across the US have shown that GM food is more safer than any food grown conventionally.
He also took issue with the EU’s stance of banning Kenyan agricultural products should the country adopt a biotechnology policy since plants such as flowers and which are bought by Europeans enmass are not GM.
Giving the global food scenario, Prof Chassy said while the global population is on the increase against the background of dwindling food production, situations that Kenya similarly faced, the country has no option but to seek for better methods of increasing food production at an economical way and that biotechnology so far provided the best option.
He said the country’s consumers should not be held hostage by negative information that have no scientific backing.

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