A new law that will help regulate the introduction of Genetically Modified (GMO) foods in Ghana has been laid in parliament for approval.
The Biosafety (Management of Biotechnology) Regulations, 2019, a Legislative Instrument, is awaiting approval after it was referred to the Subsidiary Legislation Committee for consideration.
Unlike bills, legislative instruments cannot be amended when introduced in the house. It is expected to mature automatically after it sits in the house for 21 continuous sitting days.
In an accompanying “secret” memorandum to parliament, Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng requested that the 275 MPs approve the Biosafety Regulations to make the Biosafety Act 2011 (Act 831) implementable.
“The act aims at regulating biotechnology to ensure an adequate level of safety to human health, and the environment in the development, transfer, handling and use of GMOs and also establish a transparent and predictable process in reviewing and making decisions on GMOs in Ghana,” he said.
The Biosafety Regulations laid in the house operationalizes the parent law, the National Biosafety Act 2011 that was approved by parliament 8 years ago to allow for the introduction of GMOs into Ghana’s food chain. The document makes provisions for amongst others, how the National Biosafety Authority (NBA)established under the parent act will work to ensure the safety of GMO foods.
It also lays out specific committees that will help the authority regulate GMO foods, the processes of application, how to obtain permits for import and export of GMOs, how monitoring and enforcement should be done, and how public education on GMOs should be done.
Scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have indicated they will soon request requisite approval from regulators to introduce GMO cowpea onto the market.
Prof. Frimpong Boateng in his memo to parliament said the new law was drafted in consultation with the Ministers for Health and agriculture, as well as other local and international agencies. He praised GMOs as having a key role if Ghana can attain food security.
“With the ever-increasing global population with attendant food needs, and with an estimation that a child dies every two seconds worldwide from starvation, there is a great promise in the use of this technology to benefit not only the farmers but also Ghanaians society,” he said.
The science and technology minister noted, “soil salinity has become a major problem in agriculture in Ghana, hence the need to research the possibility of using genes of salt tolerant plant species in our agricultural crops.”
He said biotechnology (GMOs) is also actively employed in the micropropagation of forests, horticultural and medicinal plants; for the improvement or development of high yielding pests and drought-resistant food crops, and bio-fertilisers, as well as in the formulation of new drugs.
“Modern biotechnology can create a variety of plants which are better tolerant to herbicides in effective weed control and or resistant to pests and other diseases,” he added.
“Biotech also creates foods with better texture, flavour and enhanced nutritional value and foods with a longer shelf life for shipping. Finally, genetic modification can create an essential sustainable way to feed Ghana,” Prof. Frimpong Boateng noted.
He said GMOs can help protect the environment and ensure a reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilisers. “And the technology creates foods with better yields thus ensuring more efficient use of land resources, less use of herbicides and other pesticides, and reduced use of machinery on farmlands thereby protecting the environment,” he said.
The minister acknowledges unauthorized development, transfer, handling and use of GMOs may have an adverse effect of the environment.
But says the regulation will seek to empower the National Biosafety Authority (NBA)which the minister describes as a “competent authority” and other requisite agencies to ensure “adequate environmental and health risk assessments are conducted prior to authorization and take steps as may be deemed necessary to protect human health and the environment.”
“This will help ensure that organisms that may be assessed to be deleterious to human health and the country’s economy are not imported or developed for use in the country. The risk assessment and risk management regimes under the regulations will adequately address this,” he noted.
“The new regulations will empower the Technical Advisory Committee established under the Act to review and where necessary request further information to establish the safety of GMOs to human health. It will also help the board of the NBA to make informed decisions to safeguard the health of Ghanaians,” he said.
Prof. Frimpong Boateng says GMOs have been demonstrated to have a positive impact on agricultural productivity with respect to yields and this has a great potential in addressing the food needs of the country.
He says the regulations will thus provide the country with the necessary framework to ensure that such positive potentials are safely harnessed in a way that will protect the environment and human health.
The minister says in drafting the new regulation, they took into consideration the role of conventional and organic agriculture in Ghana’s food security systems which he says requires large capital investments, extensive use of pesticides, fertilisers, high labour efficient among others.
“The above technologies (conventional and organic agriculture) has been practised in Ghana over the years but have not been able to provide the needed food and health securities because of the disadvantages associated with them,” he observed.
“These types of agriculture could cause a decline in soil productivity due to wind and water erosion, among others…Conventional agriculture is the single largest non-point source of water pollutants…Organic farming requires more work with the foods being more expensive,” he added.
Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng says GMOs have “the potential of addressing these disadvantages and therefore become an effective complemental technology.”
“These regulations will help the country put in place measures to ensure that we derive the optimum benefits from biotechnology – a technology which would significantly impact on the national development agenda, especially in the areas of agriculture and health while ensuring that any potential negative impacts are addressed…” he noted in the memo.