GMO debate must be refocused on scientific facts – KNUST lecturer

GMO debate must be refocused on scientific facts – KNUST lecturer
Source: Ghana| | Joseph Opoku-Gakpo | Joy News
Date: 24-10-2018 Time: 01:10:51:pm
Dr Alexander Wireko Kena, Plant Breeding lecturer

A Plant Breeding lecturer at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) is calling for a refocus of the debate on genetically modified foods in the country.

Dr Alexander Wireko Kena says it is about time that the debate is centred more on scientific facts and less on emotions, adding this is the sure way to get the best out of conflicting views on the subject.

“I am not against the opposition. We just want the debates to be centred on scientific facts. So that when you say it causes cancer, you bring your data. When I say it doesn’t cause cancer, I bring my data.

“So I am not saying the people should stop protesting. But protest based on facts,” Dr. Kena said at a panel discussion on GMOs at the Agric Faculty at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose genetic makeup have been altered to introduce beneficial traits including resistance to disease, pests and harsh weather conditions.

Ghana is currently undertaking the trials of two GMO crops following the passage of the National Biosafety Act 2011 to allow for the commercialisation of such products.

The GMO cowpea currently under trials at the Savannah Agric Research Institute in Nyankpala has been modified to resist the deadly bollworm pests which can destroy up to 80 percent of produce on cowpea fields.

A section of the audience at the event

The Nitrogen Efficient, Water Efficient, Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) rice has also been modified to be more efficient in the use of nitrogen and water, and as well be tolerant to salty soils.

But civil society groups including the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana and Food Sovereignty Ghana have kicked against the plan to commercialise GMOs, warning they could be harmful to human health.

Charles Afriyie Debrah who is Biosafety Officer at the Crop Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) noted such claims are untrue.

He says GMO foods go through even more rigorous tests than conventionally produced foods before they are released onto the market and are thus safe. “GM is as safe as conventional. Or even safer.

“Before GMO crop comes out, it goes through vigorous tests. We do a lot of food and feed safety tests, nutritional analysis before one comes out. It goes through a lot of screening. That is why I can say with a lot of boldness that GM foods are safe,” he said.

The panel followed the screening of science movie Food Evolution. Released in November 2016, the movie explores the brutally polarized debate that the introduction of GMOs into the world’s food chain has generated over the years.

Charles Afriyie Debrah, Biosafety Officer CSIR

It discusses the critical role science and innovation play in building a safe, nutritious, and sustainable food supply for everyone, as the world’s population rises to an estimated population of nine billion by 2050.

The screening and panel discussion was organised by the Alliance for Science Ghana and the KNUST Chapter of the International Association of Students in Agriculture and Related Sciences.

Godfred Addison, a student of agriculture commended anti-GMO campaigners for their efforts saying this is the only sure way to ensure increased technological application to food production does not harm humans.

“If you watch the videos carefully, you will realise that those who were opposing GMOs were not opposing GMOs because it will collapse their market, but because they have heard that they contain some carcinogens and all. So I think the protest is good. It will make us sit up. That is why they would have to be educated,” he said.

Slyvia Tawiah Tetteh of the Alliance for Science Ghana explained the group is a network of farmers, scientists, communications persons, students and other well-meaning Ghanaians working to ensure improved food and environmental security in the country.

“We work with Agric sector stakeholders to enhance access to agricultural innovation as a means of ensuring food security, improving environmental sustainability, and raising the quality of life for farmers,” she said.