Discussion on GM

In the furore over the introduction of Genetically Modified Foods in Ghana, it has become obvious that most of us, including me, do not know or had no idea what genetic modification of foods were and how it really affected the whole system not only of the body but economically too.

It seems all we heard about GMOs was how it affects our bodies adversely because the foods are not natural and the scientists are just going to mess with our metabolisms.

Fortunately I came across a discussion by a good friend of mine, Daniel Osei Ofosu, a research scientist on the ramifications of genetic modification.
Daniel was on the Good Evening Ghana Show hosted by Paul Adom Otchere on Metro TV Ghana on January 14 2014 to discuss the subject.

So I share:

Genetic modification or engineering as it is now known is one of several tools of biotechnology. All biotech works on the principle that all living things are made up of the same bases. It is this that accounts for our DNA.

These bases get randomized during fertilization. In deed, the act of randomization has been going on since the first organisms emerged from the scientific primordial soup.

This randomization enables organisms to adapt to different conditions. This can take several hundreds of years.

Farmers are one of the earliest biotech scientists. They have been mixing genes every time they plant seeds. They select for crops that are better adapted and have higher physical qualities and yielding capacity.

It is this that is exploited by scientists in the lab to produce conventional seeds; most noticeably in Ghana, Obaatampa (a maize variety produced by CSIR in the 90s) was produced with this in mind. This takes several years of research to pick the right event (typically this is about 8 generations).

This comes with its own problems. Because other genes (in addition to the genes of interest) gets embedded in the final product. This is where GE or GM comes in.

If I can identify the particular sequence that accounts for a particular trait then I can pick just that and insert it in the crop of choice. This cuts the problem of having to wait 8 generations to know if the trait will be expressed and the other problem of unwanted genes.

Research in this area has been going on for close to 20 years now all over the world. But like every thing done in the lab, there have to be limits and rules otherwise, mad scientists can create unwanted products.

Ghana has always taken a precautionary approach to issues of this nature and I deeply respect our leaders for that. Rather than embrace products wholeheartedly because it is coming from our funding partners, it put in place mechanisms before allowing the first seeds for testing (note, I said testing not sale or distribution).

This process started as far back as 1999 with the development of several frameworks for regulating biotech in Ghana. This culminated in the passing of the Legislative Instrument (1887) in 2007 to enable the CSIR and other research institutions to do research to know the true nature of some of these GMOs. In 2010, parliament passed the BioSafety Act to effectively regulate GM in Ghana. It took over 3 years after this law before the first approval were given for field trials.

AT THIS POINT LET ME STATE THAT THERE ARE NO GM FOODS ON ANY SHELF, WHETHER LOCAL MARKET OR SUPERMARKET IN GHANA.

Like most technologies, there is opposition. However, adoption rate across the world is increasing. Anti-GM activists usually point to Europe as having rejected GM but this is not true. If you will like to read more on adoption in Europe, send me a message with your email address and I’ll forward several documents to you. GM is grown and eaten in so many countries across the world – US, China, Russia just to name some of the world’s superpowers.

This is the first of several lessons I hope to give on GM. (As at the time of this write up Daniel hadn’t been on the show yet)

And yes, going forward, GM is what will help our agricultural sector in Ghana.

Several discussions followed this lecture and contributions were very informative.

Contributor 1

The issue with GM foods is in the Contract being proposed by the multinational companies – They cannot sit in their country draft a bill and impose it on Africa or 3rd world countries.

An issue that has to be looked at closely is the fact that some countries in Europe and India with all their advanced technology have opted not to make GM an essential part of their Agricultural products. It is interesting to note that since the introduction of GM foods over 50 yrs ago, Scientist are still not sure if GM foods account for some increase in disease – especially in the US but its definitely true that GM foods increases growth in

The main Issue of GM foods is deeper than anti-GM calls. My main concern is the whole irreversible law that the multinational companies want to impose, patent it and forcing it down out throat – thats whole issue on its own. The second issue is that you need at least 4o ++ yrs of research – all the food in the USA mostly is all GM but they are recently promoting lots of Organic foods because of some issues with GM – it doesn’t mean its bad.

But I think we have to also do research ourselves and study it for longer periods. Some European countries have not accepted it so we should take our time and not JUMP unto the wagon – As for the Anti-GM issues – they will always be there but we can listen to their concerns and address it. Rubbishing it won’t help….

Response

Your main issue is one of the reasons I have a problem with anti-GM activists. In the time that GM has been around, it was only commercialized in the mid 90s after over 30 years of tests. There are more problems being caused to humans by spraying chemicals on food crops than any other form of control method in farming. Yet still, farmers and governments continue to pump money in purchasing chemicals sprays (the cocoa spraying a case in study in Ghana).

It is the problems that might arise that is behind Ghana not just adopting this technology. As I write this, only four trials have been approved. Approval has not been given for any food to be placed on the market in Ghana. Ghana is a cautious country and we need to applaud our leaders for not rushing to accept it. The anti-GM guys in Ghana know very well that the only GM in Ghana is for research.
Why will they just not allow scientists to do this research and come up with our own findings to direct the next step that Ghana should take.

There is a lot of technology available to produce something called rain. But have you asked yourself the area that can be covered at a time? And try reading more about how sodium iodide is used to try to make rain and why it is not successful on a large scale.

Contributor 2

Biotec. Companies ownthe organisms they create/engineer. This, for me, is very significant for Africa. Why do you think people against GMO are sponsored? Do you think genetic modification is exact science?

Talking about a lot of chemicals being used, do not go there because that is where GMO is even more guilty and will not survive any competent/ unbribable Court. I’m surprised u believe those who have engineered these organisms and have also engineered legislations and pushing for African countries are not sponsored but those against these people are sponsored.

Response

What is stopping us from also developing our own GM crops. Most of our staples in Ghana have not been the subject of genetic modification. When samsung creates something, does samsung not own it? Companies are not there to be philanthropists. That is why CSIR is trying to pass the Plant Breeders Bill plant so that when they eventually produce their own GM, they can make money from it and channel that money into more research.

Where does chemicals compare with GM? And on sponsorship, all sides are sponsored. But look at the good the sponsorship brings before you criticize it.

So there you have it folks. A pretty erudite and educative discussion on Genetically Modified Foods.

I know we all have our thoughts on the issue but this discussion should help put into perspectives the issues at stake.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the issue.

Like I always say it begins with YOU!

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2 Responses to “Discussion on GM”

  1. This is a very good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.
    Brief but very accurate info… Many thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

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