Court to rule whether GMO case will be heard by 3 judges

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 06:30 | By
Farmer displays GMO maize crop. PD/file
Farmer displays GMO maize crop. PD/file

The High Court will next month hear and determine whether petitions challenging the government’s plan to allow the importation and distribution of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be heard by a three-judge Bench.

Justice Hedwig Ong’undi directed Kenyan Peasants League—a lobby group representing peasant farmers, to file their responses and submissions into the empanelment of a Bench by March 31.

Attorney General Justin Muturi filed the application for empanelment of an expanded Bench, saying the issues raised by the petitioners; lawyer Paul Mwangi and Kenyan Peasants League were weighty.

Judge yesterday directed the application be heard on April 17 before Justice Mugure Thande, who has been handling the matter. “Judge hearing this matter is on leave and I’m only stepping in, I’m not the one proceeding on with the matter, so I’m going to give directions as per her directions,” Justice Ong’undi directed.

High Court last year suspended the importation of GMO crops and food following petitions challenging the lifting of the ban by President William Ruto administration.

Petitioners are opposed to the importation, cultivation and consumption of GMOs on grounds that the decision to lift the ban was not procedural and it was unlawful. They also contend that GMO products pose a health risk to Kenyans, particularly the poor and those with low incomes.

Lawyer Paul Mwangi, in his petition, claims the lifting of the ban derogates the right of the people of Kenya to fair administrative action.  “The same is unlawful and procedurally unfair for failure of the Cabinet to conduct public participation before removal of all regulatory protocols governing the introduction and use of GMOs and crops,” Mwangi argues.

He contends that Kenya has achieved great developments in its own biotechnology research that has seen the development of food crops that mature in record periods with double productivity. “The hasty removal of all regulatory protocols in the cultivation and trade in genetically modified foods in Kenya is, therefore, neither rational nor reasonable,” Mwangi argues in court documents.

Kenyan Peasants League on their part claim that the lifting of the ban and removing regulatory protocols imposed in 2012 is unprocedural and unlawful.

Health risk

According to them, GMO products pose a health risk to Kenyans, particularly the poor and those with low incomes. “The Applicant decries the manner in which such a major declaration on the importation and cultivation of GMO maize was never subjected to public participation, neither are the contents of reports, if any, that preceded the making of the said decision been subjected to public participation of stakeholders,” they say in court documents.

It is their case that they are apprehensive that GMOs, if permitted into the country, will gravely affect their farming and crop production as peasants thereby affecting their productivity and sustainability.

“There is a real apprehension that GMOs have health effects that may compromise the right to health, dignity and right to life of the applicant and of the general public unless the conservatory orders set out herein are granted,” they argued.

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