, NAIROBI, Kenya, July 1 – Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia sat quietly by as he waited for the committee to come to order; flanked by his Permanent Secretary Fred Sigor and his Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kepha Ombacho on his right and the Chairman of the taskforce he constituted on genetically engineered foods, Professor Kihumbu Thairu, on his left.
And once the committee sitting came to order, Sigor said nothing for the entire one and a half hours the National Assembly’s Agriculture, Livestock and Co-operatives committee sat on Tuesday beyond introducing himself.
His superior, James Macharia, spent the greater majority of his time before the committee passing a microphone between Ombacho and Thairu even when asked a direct question, the reason he gave being, “as you’ve noticed I’ve deliberately been very quiet because I’ve submitted a Cabinet Memo on GM (Genetically Modified) foods to the committee and it would be pre-emptive of me to make my recommendations known to you before Cabinet reaches its decision in a few weeks time.”
A reason that did not sit well with a section of the committee members who demanded to know either by a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, if the report handed over to Macharia by the Thairu-led taskforce recommended the lifting of the ban on GM foods.
“It has been a circus, a serious circus, the CS came here knowing what we wanted and he knew he was not going to disclose the answer to the committee. Can the CS tell us why he brought this team, wasting government money driving all the way from Community, wasting the committee’s time?” Mt Elgon Member of Parliament (MP) John Serut demanded to know.
Sentiments that were shared by the committee chair and Mandera North MP Adan Nooru, “We’re not really very satisfied with the nature of presentation that we got from you today. It’s a fact. You have seen the members are discontent. And whatever the Cabinet decides, I hope you’re aware that these members have the mandate to change it,” he said.
Macharia eventually conceded an answer as MP after MP demanded to know whether the ban on genetically engineered foods will be lifted and all but declared a ‘no’.
“When you asked him (Thairu) are GM foods safe for human consumption, he says not proven. So from that point surely you can conclude as to what the report is leading to. And subsequent to this report they’ve been some developments like the European Union taking a stand, that report coming back into publication,” he said.
‘That report’ being the Seralini et al (2012) report that the Government of Kenya used as its basis for banning GM foods in the same year.
Earlier, Macharia’s Education counterpart Jacob Kaimenyi had indicated that it was only a matter of time before Cabinet lifted the ban but Ombacho made it clear the ban only applied to foods and that meant that it fell under the Ministry of Health’s purview.
Since the retraction of the Seralini report in 2013 by the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal for the reason that its sample size was too small to definitively prove a link between GM foods and cancer and the Sprague-Dawley rat they used was prone to cancer, GM stakeholders have been pushing for the government to lift its ban.
But as Macharia stated, it was republished last month in the Environmental Sciences Europe journal.