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Mugo forced to withdraw evidence before MPs

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 3 – There was confusion at a tripartite parliamentary committee hearing after Public Health Minister Beth Mugo contradicted her officers during a probe into influx of contaminated maize in the market.

The Public Health Minister was forced to withdraw her evidence which appeared to clear a consignment suspected to have contained high levels of moisture content. She was given more time to consult and will appear before the committee on Thursday for final submissions of her evidence.

The Minister was appearing before a tripartite sitting of the departmental committees on Agriculture (chaired by John Mututho), Defence and Foreign Relations (Adan Keynan) and that on Health (Dr Richard Monda).

She asked for more time to allow her to investigate the inconsistencies between her presentation and that of her officers concerning two consignments brought in June 2009.

She had told the committee that maize from one of the ships MV Aquila had a moisture content of 12.1 percent which was fit for human consumption.

The Committee had previously received submissions from the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Government Chemist which showed that samples from the same ship contained 14 percent moisture content which had surpassed the 13.5 percent limit for grain being imported into the country.

At the same hearings, the Cereal Millers Association denied claims they it had been involved in the importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the country.

Chairman Diamond Lalji denied charges by the joint committee that millers were involved in importation of GMO maize into the country.

"We have not been dealing in GMO maize; and this is not because they are bad. In fact GMOs are grown in 125 countries in the world," Mr Lalji said.

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The millers also warned that the cost of maize flour will continue to be high unless the government provides market for maize to the millers at Sh2,200 per 90 kg bag currently selling at Sh3,000.

Mr Lalji spoke as Chief Executive Officers of the country\’s 12 large-scale milling companies appeared before the joint committee.

Unga Limited, Easter Flours Limited, Chania Limited, Pembe Limited, TSS Limited, Mombasa Maize Mills, Uzuri Foods were among the companies represented by their managers at the committee meeting.

The committee also heard from the principal maize importer to the country, Louis Dreyfus Commodities Limited CEO James Wild on how his company imported 250,000 metric tonnes of maize and the handling of the cargo delivered at the port of Mombasa.

A huge percentage of the imported consignment contained contaminated maize which later tested positive to aflatoxin.

Mr Wild revealed that his company had actually imported 200 metric tonnes of GMO maize into the country from South Africa but it was denied entry at the port of Mombasa.

"We were aware that a certificate of non-conformity will be issued which meant the maize had to be destroyed," he said.

Mr Wild was at pains to explain the relationship between his company and the American government following pressure exerted by the US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger on the ministry of Industrialisation to clear the contaminated consignment.

Tests by both Kephis and Kenya Bureau of Standards indicated that the moisture level measured 14 percent and not 13.5 percent as per the government standards.

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MPs feared that the contaminated maize was allowed to circulate in the country and may have caused irreparable but yet to be detected damage.

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