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National Assembly Health Committee raises red flag

National Assembly Health Committee raises red flag over use of toxic pesticides

The Departmental Committee on Health has raised a red flag over the high level of pesticide residues of fruits and vegetables, leading to increased prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, acute and respiratory diseases, mental, behavioural and neurological disorders, as well as degradation of the environment.

At the same time, the Committee has recommended to the House that ninety (90) days after the adoption of the report, the Ministry in consultation with the Pest Control Products Board (PCPD) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS), and other relevant government agencies undertake an analysis of pest control products in the Kenyan Markets with a view of banning products that are carcinogenic, mutagenic,  neurotoxic and endocrine disruptors. 

The Committee also wants these agencies to additionally undertake an analysis of harmful and toxic pesticides and recommend their withdrawal from the Kenyan Market as per the relevant laws.

In a report tabled in the House by the Committee Chairperson, Hon. Sabina Chege last week, the Committee noted that the progressive intensification of agricultural production to meet the demands of both local and export markets had led to the increase in the use of pesticides in Kenya.

“According to data on domestic food safety in Kenya, fruits and vegetables sampled in both open air and supermarket retail outlets have a higher level of pesticide residues than the set Maximum Residue Levels(MRLs)”, read a section of the report.

The Committee has also called on the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, through the Pest Control Products Board, to immediately establish the regulations on distribution and retailing of pesticides to ensure that only licensed and registered persons operate agrovets outlets in the country.

The report emanates from a public petition filed in the House by Uasin Gishu Woman Representative, Hon. Gladys Shollei. The Public Petition was presented in the National Assembly on 2nd September, 2019, and resubmitted on 5th March 2020, by Hon. Shollei on behalf of Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-K), Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI Kenya) and Route to Food Initiative (RTFI). The petition was subsequently committed to the Departmental Committee on Health for considering pursuant to Standing Order 227(I).

In their prayers to the House, the petitioners sought among others, the immediate banning of all products in the Kenyan market classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxic, and many others which show apparent effects on the reproductive toxicity. They also called on the House to institute a mechanism for the withdrawal of all harmful and toxic pesticides in the Kenyan market based on the active ingredients used, and those that pose serious health risks to Kenyans. 

The Petitioners recommended that the Government establishes and strengthens the monitoring system on the use of pesticides through increased data collection on food samples in the market. They further sought the House’s intervention in addressing the legislative gaps with regard to the Pest Control Products law, so as to ensure a stricter regulatory regime is in place to deter the usage of pesticides that have been withdrawn from the market, based on their severe health risks.

The adoption of the report by the House could also see an enhancement of the budgetary allocation to the Pest Control Products Board (PCBC), and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), specifically ring-fenced to promote the regulation and monitoring of the use of pesticides in Kenya and to increase data collection on the levels of pesticides in food products in the market. The increased funding would also improve the technical capacity of these regulatory agencies to ensure adequate evaluation of pest control.

The Committee’s report was informed by their engagements with various stakeholders among them, representatives from among the petitioners; Food Science and Environmental Science experts from the University of Nairobi, the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya and conventional farmers from Uasin Gishu and Laikipia Counties.

A section of stakeholders have however cautioned against blanket banning of pesticides, noting that taking such a measure without due consideration of a risk assessment would place a threat on food security. While presenting their submissions to the Committee, they called on the government to conduct proper epidemiological studies in Kenya to enable the isolation and fair estimation of the magnitude of impact attributable to single factors in disease development.

“ Blanket banning of pesticides without due consideration of risk assessment will not help, especially in the tropical conditions and areas experiencing an invasion of pests and diseases throughout the year”, read a section of their submission.

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