16 April 2018

Ghana: National Biosafety Authority Hosts Seminar On GMOs

A seminar on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) which aimed to bring stakeholders together to discuss issues surrounding GMOs has taken place in Accra.

The programme brought together representatives from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Food Sovereignty, Ghana (FSG), Ghana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), Civil Society Groups and socio-economists.

It was organized by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) on the theme: Can GMOs contribute to the socio-economic development of Ghana?

In her remarks, Dr Gloria Naa Dzama Addico, Head of Technical Division, NBA, said it was estimated that the world population would be 9.3 billion by the year 2050-- 400 million more than previously estimated-- which required increased food production to feed and prevent famine in the tropical regions.

However, she said, climatic conditions in the tropics favoured the proliferation of insect pest and disease vectors such as fungal infestations, coupled with the lack of appropriate storage facilities, resulting in higher post-harvest loses.

Insect damage, the majority of which occurred in the developing world, Dr Addico said, was responsible for 15% of the world pre-harvest food losses.

Without modern biotechnology, she said, the only alternative for third world countries to increase food production would be to use more land, fertilizer, insecticides and herbicides which certainly was not beneficial to the farmer and the environment.

Ghana, she said, was, therefore, ready to move and reap the benefits of modern biotechnology, adding that Biosafety systems existed to ensure the safe use of modern biotechnology and to reap the needed benefits.

In her presentation, Prof. (Mrs.) Marian D. Quain, Principal Research Assistant, CSIR, stressed the urgent need to apply emerging technologies, adding that the application of biotechnology tools needed to be enhanced in crop production and that the ultimate aim of the efforts was to alleviate poverty, hunger and malnutrition in the sub-Saharan region.

She said sub-Saharan Africa needed substantial investment in cutting edge technologies and human resource development policies needed to be harnessed to ensure biosafety and sustainability of the deregulated Genetic Engineering (GE) crops.

She underscored the importance of public education, adding that all stakeholders needed to make informed decisions based on information from credible sources.

Prof. Quain called for the Introduction of Biotechnology at the Senior Secondary School Level while NBA Should be well-resourced to educate populace through radio and TV advertisements. She urged Government to devote funds for GE-related research in Ghana.

In a presentation, Dr Richard Ampadu-Ameyaw of the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute, CSIR, indicated that biotechnology had the power to improve human health, environmental sustainability and the well-being of consumers and farming communities; that biotechnologically-developed high-yielding crops could contribute to meeting the estimated 50 per cent increase in food production by 2030; and that biotechnologically-developed highly-nutritious food could contribute to good health and the general welfare of all, including farmers and consumers.

In his contribution, Mr Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour of the Communications Directorate, FSG, a grass-roots movement dedicated to the promotion of food sovereignty in Ghana, said contrary to what industry fed the media and general public, independent research was showing clear warning signs for GMO.

Mr Baffour said there was little evidence that GMOs had enabled small scale farmers to improve productivity and adapt to climate change, and that most GMO crops in the world, however, were used as feed for animals in industrial systems.

He said the creeping intrusions of GMOs into Ghana's economy was likely to increase poverty, rather than diminish it, by increasing the penetration of transnational corporations into Ghana's agriculture, thus decreasing profit margins for small local farmers, adding that Ghanaian agriculture could not afford an economy designed for the benefit of external interests at the expense of Ghanaians.

He said there was rather an urgent need to save the country's agriculture, the integrity of its water resources, ecology, and the environment, and that GM foods were impositions to increase dependency on the use of dangerous pesticides and herbicides, adding that GMOs were set to crush the export markets for farmers across Ghana.

Mr Baffour said the socio-economic ramifications of the imposition of GMOs alone ought to be enough to ban its use in Ghana.

For his part, Mr Edward Karaweh, General Secretary, GAWU, said GMOs undermined the capacity of domestic farmers to produce their own seed; that the long term effects of GMO products were not fully known; that Ghana would be constrained from accessing some of the global market, for example, the European Union (EU) market and that GMOs further undermine Ghana's independence sovereignty, and national security.

Dr Yaa Difie Osei, a member of the Board of NBA who chaired the occasion, indicated that it was the mandate of the NBA to engage the public on biotechnology and biosafety issues, and to help them better understand and accept biotechnology and GMOs as good technological systems that helped improve crop and plant varieties to ensure food security.

In 2008, L.I. 1887 was passed, based on the CSIR Act, 1996 (Act521) and in 2011, Biosafety Act, 2011 (Act 831) which regulates GMOs, was passed while the NBA was inaugurated in February 2015.

Biosafety is a term used to describe efforts to reduce and eliminate the potential risks resulting from modern biotechnology and its products while a GMO is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans.

Because this involves the transfer of genes, GMOs are also known as "transgenic" organisms. This process may be called either Genetic Engineering or Genetic Modification (GM).

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