GM Foods — More questions than answers

With the banter on Genetically Modified foods onging within the media in Ghana, the Graphic Communications Group Limited organsied a media training for journalists in Accra last Thursday.

Currently, Food Sovereignty Ghana,d.d2k (FSG) is kicking against the introduction of the genetically-modified (GM) foods and crop.

In addition, they embarked on a march against the introduction of genetically modified crops and foods into the Ghanaian market on October 12, 2012 at the Agbloboshie market in Accra, to sensitise traders to the health effects of the crops and call on them to reject their introduction.

According to them, GM foods were associated with heart diseases, fibroid, diabetes and cancers, among others, and, as such they were not good for human consumption.

They also raised concerns about the economic implications farmers and the country were likely to face if the crops were allowed into the country.

Besides, the FSG believes government breached the National Bio-safety Act 2011 Legislation/Ghana/GH_Biosafety_Act_2011.pdf by allowing the processes, when the National Bio-safety Authority has not been set up.

Interestingly, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) is calling for an extensive stakeholder debate to unravel the full effects of GM foods before it is accepted and produced commercially in Ghana.

Meanwhile, the National Biosafety Committee, the nation’s interim regulator of GM foods in the country,  has assured Ghanaians that there is nothing harmful about GM Foods.

A member of the committee and former Director General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Prof. Walter Alhassan Sundow, who was a resource person at the training, said it is certain GM foods that have gone through the required safety testing procedures could be considered safer than the conventionally produced ones because of the tedious approval procedures they go through.

He noted that GM crops have the potential of producing pest resistant, nitrogen efficient and drought resistant crops, and thereby help to increase yield and more nutritious crops quality.

The CSIR is currently undertaking confined field trials of GM rice and cowpea, expected to hit the market soon.

With all these battles, the big question on most people’s mind is what at all is GM foods?

According to the Wikipedia, they are foods produced from organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering.

These techniques have allowed for the introduction of new crop traits, as well as a far greater control over a food’s genetic structure than previously afforded by methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding.

Commercial sale of genetically modified foods began in 1994, when Calgene first marketed its Flavr Savr delayed ripening tomato.

To date most genetic modification of foods have primarily focused on cash crops in high demand by farmers such as soybean, corn, canola, and cotton seed oil.

These have been engineered for resistance to pathogens and herbicides as well as better nutrient profiles.

GM livestock have also been experimentally developed, although as of November 2013 none is currently on the market.

The controversy is a dispute over the use of food and other goods derived from genetically modified crops instead of conventional crops, and other uses of genetic engineering in food production.

The dispute involves consumers, biotechnology companies, governmental regulators, non-governmental organisations, and scientists.

The key areas of controversy are whether GM foods should be labelled, the role of government regulators, the objectivity of scientific research and publication, the effect of GM crops on health and the environment, the effect on pesticide resistance, the impact of GM crops for farmers, and the role of GM crops in feeding the world population.

This group claims that there are many advantages including the following:

• Crops are more productive and have a larger yield.

• Potentially, offer more nutrition and flavour (although this is debatable).

• A possibility that they could eliminate allergy-causing properties in some foods.

• Inbuilt resistance to pests, weeds and disease.
• More capable of thriving in regions with poor soil or adverse climates.

• More environment friendly as they require less herbicides and pesticides.

• Foods are more resistant and stay ripe for longer so they can be shipped to long distances or kept on shop shelves for longer periods.

• As more GMO crops can be grown on relatively small parcels of land, they are an answer to feeding growing world populations.

Some corporations insist that genetically modified foods are safe because changing a few genes here and there does not make a crop toxic or dangerous.

The claim is why shouldn’t we alter nature to meet our needs?

And also because there are many natural organisms that human beings have transformed to serve their purpose.

Critics cite the dangers of GMO noting the following:

• Scientists can choose which genes to manipulate, but they don’t yet know where in the DNA to precisely insert these genes and they have no way of controlling gene expression.

Genes don’t work in isolation, changing a few could change the whole picture, with unpredictable results.

• The use of genetically modified food should not be encouraged without research into the risk factors.

• Not labelling is wrong and unfair to the consumers who should have the right to know what they are buying so they can decide for themselves whether they want to buy the food or not.

Even if health safety factors are not an issue, some people might have moral or religious objections. They should not have to eat GMOs if they don’t want to.

• GM crops pose a risk to food diversity as the plants are much more dominant.

• Herbicide-resistant and pesticide-resistant crops could give rise to super-weeds and super-pests that would need newer, stronger chemicals to destroy them.

• GMO crops cross-pollinate with nearby non-GMO plants and could create ecological problems.

If this were to happen with GMO foods containing vaccines, antibiotics, contraceptives and so on, it would very well turn into a human health nightmare.

• The claim of ending world hunger with GMOs is false. World hunger is not caused by a shortage of food production, but by sheer mismanagement, and lack of access to food brought about by various social, financial and political causes.

• GMO technology companies patent their crops and also engineer crops so that harvested grain germs are incapable of developing.

This is not empowering to impoverished Third World farmers, who cannot save seeds for replanting and have to buy expensive seeds from the companies every year.

The new technology also interferes with traditional agricultural methods which may be more suited to local environments.

GMOs are not the answer to world hunger and health. Instead, focus should be on improving organic agricultural practices which are kinder to the earth and healthier for humans.

• There are many more questions about genetically modified food that can only be answered through time, research and experience.

Which side of the argument do you belong to ? This is the crux of the matter in the ongoing debate of GMOs.

Food is an emotional topic. It matters a great deal to all of us. We are what we eat after all.

The subject is also of vested interest for the corporations that manufacture genetically modified seeds and agricultural technologies. The arguments are intense and passionate.

Leave a comment. 0 comment so far.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login