I would like to respond to an article in the Business Daily on January 13, 2020, headlined “We will slash food supply for politics or stay with science” by Okisegere Ojepatin.
According to a 2018 study by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis), under the National Pesticide Residue Monitoring Programme, out of the 1,139 food samples taken, 530 (46.53percent) had pesticide residues known to have negative effects on health and the environment.
Yet for a long time, we have lived in some sort of fool’s paradise. We eat with little care about the safety of our food, especially regarding pesticide residue contamination. While other countries have put in place stringent laws and standards to protect their citizens, we fail to implement structured mechanisms of ensuring that the food products Kenyans eat are safe.
As one of the Kenyans who have petitioned Parliament to withdraw certain toxic pesticides from our market, I wish to respond to the casual dismissal of our concerns by Ojepatin.
Our petition currently before the National Assembly Committee on Health, calls on the Pest Control Produce Board to withdraw some of the active ingredients that have negative chronic human effects. There is evidence to show these pesticides can cause cancer (carcinogenic), interfere with genetic make-up (mutagenic), affect the hormonal systems (endocrine disrupters), interfere with the nervous system (neurotoxic), and others show clear negative effects on reproduction. Some are harmful to bees and fish.
The petitioners are not “throwing around the word cancer” to scare people, but are relying on the evidence of studies done on these pesticides and their relationship with various illnesses. The studies prove chronic health effects are real.
The article suggests that the petition asks for a ban on all “plant protection products”. Far from it! The petitioners have emphasised that it is 235 out of 862 registered products, which contain active ingredients that have been banned in Europe.
That is 27 percent that we need to consider as a priority because of their health effects, environmental persistence, high toxicity towards fish or bees, or because there is insufficient data to prove that there is no harm to humans or nature.
It is malicious to insinuate that petitioners have “employed a Women Rep to petition Parliament for a wholesale banning of hundreds of pesticides.”
Gladys Boss Shollei recognises and understands the issue and the negative implications of these pesticides and has championed the petition to protect Kenyans.
The petitioners’ approach is neither “populist” nor “ignorant”, nor intolerant of “divergent information and views”.
Evidence that informed the withdrawal of the said products is based on peer-reviewed scientific studies on the specific active ingredients, which concluded they have negative chronic effects on human health and environment. The EU’s decision was informed by the precautionary principle. And, if they are bad for Europeans, they are also bad for Kenyans and everyone for that matter.
Not all pesticides have been withdrawn in Europe, only the dangerous ones. Change of mode of assessment whether risk-based or hazard-based, does not make a dangerous chemical safe. It is the studies undertaken on those active ingredients’ impact that informed their withdrawal, not the mode of assessment. Indeed, it is laudable that the regulator adopts the stricter hazard-based assessment when registering products. We should maintain this approach in reviewing and putting our house in order when it comes to agrochemicals.
Let us not confuse Kenyans about the intent of the petition. It is presented by concerned citizens with the utmost good faith and with no conflict of interest. It calls for the withdrawal of specific active ingredients that have negative effects on human health and the environment. It is not a political call but a responsible, moral and patriotic call to the relevant authorities to protect Kenyans.
The process so far gives us hope that our MPs will be judicious in assessing the evidence presented before them and guiding the way forward, contrary to Ojepat’s insinuation that they are a gathering of ignoramuses.
Eustace Kiarii, CEO, Kenya Organic Agriculture Network