The Biosafety Act, which has been delayed in Parliament for four years, has finally received Presidential Assent.
The Law, emanating from the Biosafety Act, 831, 2011, will allow Ghana to apply biotechnology in food crop production, involving Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in food production.
It will also ensure 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.
The law will also ensure the establishment of transparent and predictable process, to review and make decisions on specified GMOs that were pharmaceutical for human use.
Speaking to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in an interview, Mr Ebenezer Adjietror, Principal Assistant Clerk in Charge of Table Office, Parliament, said the Bill delayed because of initial constitutional matters, which resulted in back and forth movement of the Bill till it was finally passed into law.
The 28-page Act has nine arrangements of sections, which include Scope, Objectives and Establishment, Administration, Handling of Requests for Approvals, Reviews and Approvals, Technical Advisory Committee, Regulatory Agencies, Inspections, Finance and Miscellaneous.
It also has five schedules, which include Conduct of Business and Affairs of the Board, Information Required in Applications for Contained or Confined Use, Information Required in Applications for Release, Importation and Placing on the Market, Risk Assessment and Regulatory Agencies.
Under the new Biosafety law, a National Biosafety Authority will be established with the functions clearly spelt out and the composition of the governing body also spelt out.
In West Africa, Burkina Faso is currently using biotechnology for farming particularly in cotton and vegetable production, while Togo, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mali and South Africa were also applying the technology.
Ghana, before the passage of the law was using an existing Legislative Instrument; CSIR Act 521 of 1996 as a template, since it had provisions for the conduct of research in general, and it was simply to extend this to the conduct of research on Genetically Modified Organisms.
Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan, Project Coordinator on Strengthening Capacity for Safe Biotechnology Management in Sub-Sahara Africa (SABIMA) of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), told the GNA that the enactment of the law was the culmination of years of outreach activities and advocacy for biotechnology and Biosafety involving a cross-section of Ghanaians.
They included the scientific community, media, farmer-based organizations, consumer associations, religious bodies and legislators supported by donor agents or their representatives.
Prof. Alhassan, a former Director-General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, said the passage of the law marked the determination of the Government and people of Ghana to meet the legal requirement for the safe application of modern biotechnology for socio-economic development, especially through agriculture.
“It is the start of a long journey in the engagement of modern biotechnology to meet the challenges of agricultural production. It is the hope that the regulations and institutions will be put in place and supported adequately to facilitate the exploitation of the law,” he said. Out of the 25 countries planting biotech crops, 15 are developing countries, and 10 are industrialised countries.
Another 30 countries approved the importation 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 in their countries, with the number of biotech crop farmers increasing from 1.3 million to 13.3 million in the 25 biotech crop countries between 1996 and 2008.
Mr Eric Okore, Biosafety Focal Person at the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology, commended Government for the commitment shown in the passage of the law.
He said the Ministry would put in place measures for the enforcement of the law. Professor Eric Quaye, Chairman of the National Biosafety Committee, told the GNA that the committee had “fought so hard to make this dream a reality, but the delay has put Ghana far behind the other countries, though it is worth the time”.
He said the Committee was waiting for the Ministry to constitute the National Biosafety Authority to begin work.
The Biosafety Law, Prof. Quaye noted was needed to improve the safety of food, improve its yield and ensure its security; hence the law would ensure that the necessary measures were put in place to address food safety and its security.
Dr Yaa Difie Osei, Member of the National Biosafety Committee, told the GNA that “the work has just begun and we will need all the stakeholders to make our dream come true”. She explained that biotechnology could make a meaningful contribution to the challenges facing Africa
Dr Osei explained that biotechnology was like any technological application that used biological systems, living organisms to make or modify products.
“Traditional biotechnology has been in use for centuries and it involves fermentation used in the preparation bread, kenkey, and alcohol. Modern biotechnology is based on the developments in cellular and monocular biology that occurred in the second half of the 20th century.
She noted that the GM technology did not only improve crop yield but also ensured insect resistance, which helped farmers to save substantial amount of money spent on pesticides, enhanced nutritional values and also increased the shelve life of produce.
Dr Ibrahim D. Atokple, Principal Investigator for the Maruca-Resistant Cowpea Project of the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, said research institutions were ready to begin with the laboratory work and that “This is a long awaited dream come true”.
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