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Discord over GMOs

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The government is divided over the use and consumption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country amid conflicting signals from different ministries over the past two weeks.

This follows disclosures by Science and Technology minister Heneri Dzinotyiwei that fears surrounding the consumption of GMOs were unfounded as there had been no scientific evidence to prove they were detrimental to human health.

But Agriculture minister Joseph Made last week said government would not allow the production of GMOs even if they could ensure food sufficiency. He claimed scientific research had proved that GMOs were toxic and less nutritious.

However, Dzinotyiwei said although Cabinet did not have a coalesced position on the matter, the ministry had made proposals for consideration.

He told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology early this week that there was need to find common ground among stakeholders on the subject and map the way forward.

“From a science perspective, we see no problem. We (however) need to find a common meeting point with our colleagues and not do things based on superstition but fact because it’s not sustainable. If our colleagues in the other (political) sector felt it was not right, they should provide scientific evidence,” Dzinotyiwei said.

“As Cabinet, we don’t have a view. As Science and Technology (ministry) we have submitted proposals for trials on GMOs to assess their impact on the environment and bio-diversity.”

Made was, however, quoted as saying: “Look at what Kenya has done. They have banned GMOs going into their country. Those who advocate GMOs have no scientific background, hence they do not know the impact of GMOs on the environment.”

Dzinotyiwei told the committee it was important “to weigh the pros and cons” on the matter as there were other economic considerations.

He said there appeared to be a double-sided approach in dealing with GMOs.

“Growing of GMO crops like maize and potatoes (in the country) is not yet allowed, but the importation of these may be allowed, for instance, in times of drought. The product comes in as milled, or it is inspected from the border to the point of milling,” Dzinotyiwei said.

A local agricultural policy expert, Roger Mpande, has argued that the country’s best bet was to stick to local knowledge systems and resources as the impact of GMOs could not be over-estimated.

“There is no drought-tolerant variety (among the GMOs), no vitamin enhancement, no medicinal traits and no yield increases,” he said.

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