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Controversy Over Genetically Modified Food Rages
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There is growing controversy between some food experts and civil society organisations (CSOs) over the introduction of genetically modified (GM) food into the country.

While officials at the Microbiology Division of the Food Research Institute (FRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) contend that there is nothing wrong with GM foods, CSOs have advised the government not to take hasty decisions on the adoption of such food.

According to the Head of the Microbiology Division of the FRI, Dr Margaret Ottah Atikpo, GM food was not injurious to human life.

Dr Atikpo is also the Focal Person for Ghana on the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAM).

In an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra, she said there were no known risks such as cancer, allergies and infertility associated with the intake of GM food in the countries where they were commercialised.

She stressed that “GM foods are safe... So there is no cause for alarm, no fears for the ordinary Ghanaian”. Dr Atikpo said cancer could be caused by the over-use of pesticides and chemicals by farmers.

“Sometimes our farmers even taste the pesticides to find out if the mixture is good to spray. Sometimes they use the pesticide containers to store water to drink,” she explained.

The Biosafety Act

Dr Atikpo said those practices were what could cause cancer and infertility, not GM food, which reduces the use of pesticides. In addition, she said, GM food assured of bumper harvest, compared to non-GM food.

She said the Biosafety Act, which was passed in 2011, paved the way for the introduction of GM food in the country and, therefore, dismissed claims that the Seed Breeders Bill was linked with GM food.

“The Seed Breeders Bill has nothing whatsoever to do with GM food. It is to protect the breeders and bring royalty to the breeder and the country,” she explained.

She announced that with the passage of the Biosafety Act 2011, the country had already started confined field trials of GM cotton in the three Northern Regions.

Confined field trials

Dr Atikpo explained that “confined field trial is when, as you investigate the GM crop, you confine it in a location away from human beings and animals in order to manage the risk, so that it is safe for use”.

She said the position of CSOs, whom she described as anti-GM, was unfortunate and advised the anti-GM campaigners to liaise with scientists and not go read any literature and use that to confuse farmers.

Dr Atikpo indicated that GM food could reduce poverty, increase food production and improve the livelihood of the farmer.

She advised against politicising agriculture and urged Ghanaians to trust the country’s scientists, saying that “scientists don’t just go to the laboratory to forge results”.

Rebutting Dr Atikpo’s submissions, the Executive Director of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge for Organisational Development (CIKOD), Mr Ben Guri, cautioned the government not to rush into adopting GM food.

Mr Guri, whose organisation collaborates with Food Sovereignty Ghana, insisted that there was scientific proof that there were long-term side effects of GM food on human beings, adding that Europe had banned all GM foods.

He insisted that there were long-term risks, including infertility, cancerous cells and high level of allergies.

Supporting his claims with documents, Mr Guri stressed that it was important for scientists to educate people on both the benefits and side effects of GM food for the public to make informed decisions.

Need for amendments

Commenting on the Biosafety Act, 2011, Mr Guri said the act lacked some important and necessary provisions, such as the need to clearly label GM food.

He said the authorities needed to also ensure that in the cultivation of GM crops, contamination or commingling of the crops with non-GM crops was prevented.
Source: Graphic Online

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