The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has, in a new report, raised the alarm over the increased cases of genetic contamination in globally traded foods.
The survey conducted in 193 countries between February and June last year showed that more conventional foods were being found to have genetic modification (GM) contamination.
The report comes at a time when Kenya is considering maize importation to plug a deficit following poor production last year.
With traditional white maize import sources facing challenges of their own it is expected that Kenya’s imports will be sourced elsewhere.
According to the FAO report the increase in contamination has impacted global import and export trade, especially for countries with zero tolerance to genetically modified foods.
FAO reported that over the period of the survey, 25 countries across the globe blocked imports after finding traces of GMOs.
Incidences of discovery of genetically modified material in non-GM food, the report says, has been on the increase for the last 12 years, with cases more than doubling in the last five years.
Between 2002 and 2009, 60 cases of contamination were reported among the surveyed countries compared to the 138 cases reported up to last year.
The island of Madagascar destroyed a consignment of maize it had imported from France after it was found to have traces of GM contamination.
Last year the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) reprimanded individuals deemed to be responsible for producing and marketing maize products that allegedly contained GM in a consignment imported from neighbouring Tanzania.
The report noted that while the number of cases of contaminated consignments was relatively smaller than the total amount of food and feed traded globally on any day, the increased occurrence is a worry as it leads to costly trade disruptions.
In most cases the genetically modified crop is authorised for use and sale in one country but may not be legalised in the importing country. If traces of GM are found in a non-GM consignment, the shipment may be destroyed or returned to the country of origin.
Levels of contamination in human food and animal feed varied from one country to another, with a general range between detection of low levels of GM crops that have been approved after a food safety assessment to the adventitious presence level where unintentional presence of GM crops that has not been approved on a food safety assessment in any country was discovered.
FAO said that trace amounts of GMO could be mixed with non-GM food and feed crops by accident during field production or during processing, packing, storage and transportation when the two interact.
The FAO report also identified the inadequate separation between commercialised and field trial production areas as a major contributor to the resulting trade risks.
The fact that different GMO policies exist between trading partners also raised the possibility of imports being rejected over contamination.
Botswana, Congo, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique and the Gambia were among African countries included in the survey.
Others were Mali, Morocco, Somalia, Namibia, Sudan, Niger, Seychelles and Togo.
Linseed, rice, maize, rice cracker and noodles were the most common contaminated foods, with the traded papaya, pet food, canola and soybean products also showing some levels of GM contamination.
Most of the shipments found to have low levels of contamination came from the US, Canada and China. The increased incidence of reported contaminated consignments has been attributed to the increased production of genetically modified crops around the globe.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) estimates that the total acreage of biotech crops increased by five million hectares from 2012 to reach 175 million hectares in 2013.
In their global status of commercialised GM crops 2013, ISAAA noted that of the 27 countries that had grown genetically modified crops, 19 were developing countries that planted an acreage that exceeded that of the industrial nations.
The leading growers of genetically modified crops last year were the US, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada.
ISAAA also identified soybean, cotton, maize and canola as the major biotech crops planted last year.
Seventy nine per cent of global planting, equivalent to 84.5 million hectares of GM soybean, was grown in 11 countries while 23.9 million hectares of genetically modified cotton was grown in 15 countries last year, representing 70 per cent of global planting.
About 57.4 million hectares of maize, considered a staple food in several African countries, planted last year was genetically modified representing 32 per cent of global planting while 8.2 million hectares of GM canola was grown in four countries in 2013.