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GM food-safety authority in the offing – As Ghana looks at GM crops for the future

The Chairman of Ghana’s National Biosafety Committee (NBC), Professor Erick C. Quaye has emphasized that, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), which will supervise the implementation of genetically modified (GM) crops in the country would soon be established.

According to Professor Quaye, everything is in order for the establishment of the Authority, adding that the sector Minister is aware and working towards it. He also noted that the authority will be the implementing agency in Ghana.

Genetically modified foods according to the World Food Organization (WHO), are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the scientific introduction of a gene from a different organism. Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield, through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides.

However, per WHO’s guidelines, all GM foods should be assessed before being allowed onto the market. Professor Quaye gave the hint of the formation of the National Biosafety Authority at a one-day workshop for the media on the process of biotechnology and biosafety policy development and the way forward. It was held at the School of Nuclear and Allied Science at the Atomic Energy in Accra.

The programme brought together over 50 media practitioners and all the NBC committee members. He indicated that until the establishment of the authority, the NBC committee is acting on behalf of the authority and overseeing the current activities of the introduction of GM crops in Ghana. He emphasized that Ghana just started the field trial of GM crops, especially on cowpea, GT cotton and rice, but added that “as a country we are nowhere near the full implementation of GM crops on commercial basis”.

“It will take Ghana a decade of coming fully with the consumption and commercialization of GM crops,” Prof. Quaye said. He noted that the committee was put in place more than a decade ago and they have been trying to implement the Cartagena Protocol on GM crops. “Even though we have not finished the communication strategy of our work, we believe the media is very important to our work,” he added. At the moment the committee is very much concerned about the negative perception Ghanaians have about GM crops.

But Prof. Quaye said the committee is similar to any other committee or authority in the country and for that matter will not impose any negative or dangerous products on Ghanaians. “We know our roles and we are to protect the public against any harmful effect of GM crops,” said Prof. Quaye.

Recognizing its potential and taking cognizance of the inherent danger its application may have on the environment and on human health, the Government inaugurated the NBC in 2000 with the mandate to develop guidelines for the safe application of modern biotechnology in the country.

Clearly, the national focus has been on the precautionary approach and the environmentally sound management of biotechnology in the country. During that period there was no record of a field trial or cultivation of genetically modified crops in Ghana.

The Government, in pursuance of the precautionary approach, established negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB). Meanwhile a group calling itself Food Sovereignty Ghana, a grass-roots movement dedicated to the promotion of food sovereignty in Ghana, has questioned the modus operandi of the National Biosafety Committee since according to the group, opening Ghana’s door to genetically modified organisms will affect the livelihoods, peace and well-being of rural communities.

To them, looking at major countries that have adopted GMOs including the United States of America, Brazil and Argentina, rural people who are used to the traditional way of farming are now left handicapped. “…to those who proclaim that introducing GMOs are in the best interests of small scale farmers in Ghana, do they not see the havoc that industrial agriculture, in which GMOs often play a key role, has created for farm families in other countries?”, the group asks in a press release titled ; Is There Anything Safe About Ghana’s Bio-Safety Committee? It was signed by its Chairperson, Ali- Masmadi Jehu-Appiah.

Story by: Yaw Sarpong

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