NAIROBI (Reuters) - South Africa's government has authorised a firm to export 240,000 tonnes of genetically modified (GM) maize to Kenya, where GM imports remain controversial, a group opposed to the trade said on Monday.
Advocacy group Kenya Biodiversity Coalition said commodity trader Louis Dreyfus had a further 40,000 tonnes already held up at Kenya's Mombasa because GM foodstuffs are not yet allowed into Kenya.
"We were made aware that the South African government had given permits to the same company to export another 240,000 metric tonnes, bringing it to 280,000 tonnes," said Anne Maina, the group's advocacy coordinator.
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki has signed off a new law endorsing the import of some crops, but the bill has yet to come into effect, said Maina.
The environmental group said it also opposed the import of GM maize because Kenyan farmers are enjoying a bumper harvest this year and there are concerns the modified crop could interfere with the local gene pool.
Last week, South Africa's Business Report newspaper said Kenya had rejected a 40,000 tonne consignment of South African GM maize.
Officials at Louis Dreyfus were not immediately available for comment.
"Why the pressure to bring in more maize now when there is a glut (of local maize) and the Biosafety Bill has not been gazetted yet?" she told Reuters.
"We see this as a scheme to bring in maize and corrupt the indigenous maize. It will contaminate the Kenyan gene pool."
The bulk of maize exports from South Africa, Africa's biggest producer of the crop, have gone to Kenya this year, which was severely hit by a drought in 2008/2009.
The drought left almost a third of the population in east Africa's largest economy in need of food aid last year.
Despite the need for more food, some African countries including Zimbabwe and Zambia have banned GM imports, fearing they could be harmful to humans and animals.
South Africa industry experts said last month the country saw faster growth in its GM crop area in the 2009/10 season, amid softening perceptions about food from gene-altered crops on the continent.