Soko maize flour risks recall over illegal GM content

Business Daily(Nairobi ANPAK)

Soko maize flour faces recall from the shop shelves after the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) disclosed the product as the latest to have genetically modified content. The authority has written the Directorate of Criminal Investigations director Francis Muhoro to further investigate Thika-based Capwel Industries, the maize flour makers, to pave the way for the prosecution of firm and its owners. Kenya has restrictions on GM maize that have locked out major exporters, including South Africa, from the local market despite facing frequent grain shortages.

The planned prosecution of the makers of Soko comes days after the biosafety agency said that its preparing charges against Unilever and executives of the consumer giant after it detected GM in the firm's Aromat food seasoning. "We have tested Soko maize meal flour manufactured by Capwel Industries, Thika, and found it to be positive for GMO," NBA chief executive Philip Tonui said in a letter to Mr Muhoro seen by the Business Daily. The authority is also pursuing the importers of Bokomo, a grain and oatmeal cereals made in the UK. The product is imported by Debenham and Fear Limited, which is based at Baba Dogo, Nairobi. "During our routine GMO surveillance in the Kenya supermarkets, our inspectors come across Bokom OTEES, which is labelled as GM," Prof Tonui said in the letter. READ: Unilever faces court action over GMO in Aromat Laboratory tests were conducted on 25 products by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) between June 4 and 11 and led to the detection of the three GM-laced products. The law requires that all goods containing GM ingredients be approved by the authority. Only products with undetectable or less than one per cent GM content are exempted from labelling. Capwel Industries faces a fine not exceeding Sh20 million and its executives risk a jail term not exceeding 10 years if found guilty. The High Court on Monday issued orders against the arrest of Unilever Kenya executives over Aromat. Aggressive advertising Justice Isaac Lenaola also stopped the regulator from withdrawing Aromat from the market until July 16, when the matter comes up for hearing. An executive at the biosafety authority said that the agency would release a report on the contaminated products in two weeks. "It is true that the flour, which is one of the foodstuff that we had sent to Kephis for test, was found to be containing some elements of GMO," said the executive on condition ofanonymity. Soko maize flour has recently gained market share on the back of aggressive advertising in a market dominated by Pembe Mills and Nairobi bourse-listed Unga Limited. Millers have been pushing the agency to approve importation of genetically modified maize to mitigate a looming shortage. The government has forecast a shortfall in maize supply of five million 90-kg bags ahead of the August harvest season. Prof Kihumbu Thairu, the chair of a taskforce formed to guide a new policy on GM products said the restrictions are a precautionary measure on health concerns. Last year, a global scientific journal retracted an article that it had published that linked genetically modified food to cancer.

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