Contrary to the arguments by individuals and civil society groups that Genetically Modified (GM) products are dangerous for human consumption, a research scientist at the Savanna Agriculture Research Institute, Dr Ibrahim Kwasi Atokple, has claimed that GM foods are safe and have no adverse health implications as widely speculated.
Dispelling the claims, Dr Atokple emphasised that a number of research has been ongoing since the introduction of GM products onto the market to ascertain whether or not the products have negative health effects but no such case has yet been discovered.
"So far, nobody has reported of any side effects," he said. Hence, he noted that the arguments by these individuals and groups have no basis, and without any scientific evidence.
He however admitted that there may be a few allergies associated with the consumption of GM foods. "I want to mention that there may be few allergies, but even with the conventional crops there are allergies. Several tests are going on with evaluation but nothing has been found yet."
Dr Atokple spoke recently to Public Agenda at the sidelines of a training workshop on Plant Breeding Genetics and Biosciences for Farming in Africa. The workshop, held in Accra, brought together selected journalists from the print and electronic media across the country.
GM foods, or biotech foods, are foods derived from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) such as genetically modified crops or genetically modified fish. GMOs have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques.
Some local civil society organisations have argued that the adoption of biotechnology by Ghana would create a dependency syndrome that could jeopardise the country's food sovereignty as its food crop production would be dependent on multinational seed and pesticides companies.
"We don't support Genetically Modified Crops because we think they are dangerous to the survival of our agriculture. Genetically Modified Crops will be a structural constraint on agriculture as it will result in high costs of input. Genetically Modified Crops will not be part of the solution to our problems," Mr. Bishop Akolgo, Executive Director of the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), argued in an interview with Public Agenda a few months ago.
He warned: "We should not introduce this artificial thing. Any government that introduces that is looking for trouble because no farmer will like to vote for any government who will attempt to take away their livelihoods."
But the research scientist had a contrary view. He explained that Ghana had the human resource capacity and technical expertise to produce the seeds that the multinational companies were producing. Hence farmers would not need to get their seed from the companies. For him, the benefits to be derived from GM crops far outweigh the disadvantages. He stated there should be more education on GM crops for the myth around them to be removed.
In an interview with Public Agenda, Jim Dunwell, a scientist at the University of the Reading in the United Kingdom, observed that some countries in Africa that had adopted GM crops and other hybrids varieties were making breakthroughs in agriculture. It is, therefore, up to Ghana, Mr Dunwell said, to acquaint itself with the success story of other countries that had gained from GM crops and decide to adopt or not to adopt them.
Ghana has Legislative Instrument which came into force in May 2008 allowing research into GM crops. The Biosafety Act, 2011 (Act 831) empowers Ghana to allow the application of biotechnology in food crop production involving GMOs to enter into food production. It ensures an adequate level of production in the field of safe development transfer, handling and use of GMOs that are pharmaceuticals for human use, and which are the subject of any other enactment. It also establishes a transparent and predictable process to review and make decisions on specified GMOs that were pharmaceutical for human use.
Out of the 25 countries planting biotech crops, 15 are said to be developing countries while 10 are industrialised countries. About 30 countries have approved import of biotech products for food and feed use. Egypt, Burkina Faso, Bolivia, Brazil and Australia were the first five countries to commercialise their biotech crops. The global value of biotech crops markets in 2008 was $7.5 billion, with an accumulated historical milestone value of $50 billion for the 1996-2008 period.