Some scientists are urging caution on calls for the labelling of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) products in the country.
Plant Breeders at the Savanah Accelerated Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have indicated they will soon put in an application to regulators for commercial release of GMO cowpea.
This variety of cowpea has an inherent resistance to pest attack following the completion of trials.
The 2011 National Biosafety Act which provides legal backing for the commercial release of GMOs makes no specific provisions for labelling. The National Biosafety Authority and Food and Drugs Authority are now working on guidelines for that.
"We wish to state categorically that our right to know what is in our food is a fundamental human right. It is not up for debate. There is no way our laws on the labelling of GMOs should be voluntary, as some usual suspects appear to be suggesting,” the statement said.
"We demand a mandatory labelling of all food products derived wholly or partially from GMOs! And we call on the people of Ghana to join us in making this demand on the right to know what is in our food," it said.
"What we are asking for ought not to be controversial. Labelling of packaged and prepackaged products is for purposes of health, food safety and need to know. We insist that there is a need to know if the food or feed contains GMOs.
Traceability and culpability lead to responsibility; responsibility leads to safety,” the statement added.
Former Director General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Prof. Walter Alhassan says there is no need for labelling for the GM crops being working on in Ghana because they are same as the conventional ones.
“Because the product is substantially the same as the non-GM product, and it’s safe, here is no need for labelling. Personally, I think there should be no labelling. At best, voluntary labelling,” he told Joy News in an interview.
According to Prof. Alhassan, labelling of GMOs has anything to do with safety. He says with the rigorous tests GMOs go through, the products will not even have the chance to get onto the market if they are unsafe.
“The danger of mandatory labelling is, for the uninitiated, you may say that this is a product that is probably not safe. When people are asking for labelling, we tend to confuse it with safety. But the safety has been taken care of. It’s been 22 years now. Not a single person has gone to see a doctor for a headache concerning a GMO, not alone dying,” Prof. Alhassan said.
The scientist insists it will be confusing to attempt labelling GMO products because a lot of foods on the market in Africa are sold unpackaged.
“Even if we insist on the labelling, how are you going to handle the woman in the ‘Agbogbloshie’ Market or other markets where they have the cowpea in the open, unpackaged? If the products are not packaged, the law does not bind you to label it. So what will they achieve?” he quizzed.
Prof. Alhassan argues a law requiring mandatory labelling will not be enforceable because of the unpackaged manner in which food crops are sold without packaging. “You cannot enforce it if you cannot monitor. So what’s the point?” he insisted.
Dr. Alexander Wireko Kena who is a Plant Breeding lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology says Ghana must avoid blanket labels on GMO crops.
He says labelling should only be done if the labels reflect the objective behind the production of that variety.
“The label should reflect the reason why that GM was produced. For instance, the rice GM crop with high vitamin A content; that is the information that could help a consumer to make a decision. That if I buy GM rice, I am going to boost vitamin A content in my body for a healthy living. If so, then fine,” he said.
He is against labelling that will just state that the products are GMOs. “But just putting GM label or stamping it on the package will not help anyone. So if I go to the market to buy a car, it’s not enough to know that this is a car, I should know the capabilities of the car.
“The specifications. That is good labelling. It is not enough to just say, put GM stamp on it. That will not be enough to suffice for consumers to make a good decision,” Dr. Kena added.
“If it is just about blanket labelling, lamping all GM crops as just GM, then it’s unfair. It reduces the competitive advantage GM will have over their existing counterparts,” he concluded.
The Chief Executive Officer of the National Biosafety Authority Eric Okoree says they are still collating views from the public on whether Ghana’s GMOs will be labelled, after which the necessary guidelines will be published.
“The authority cannot have a position on labelling. We are gathering the views of the public in collaboration with the Food and Drugs Authority. Labelling will be a national decision,” he explained.
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