Business News of 2013-12-20

Breeders’ bill has nothing to do with GMOs -CSIR

The Plant Breeder’s Right Bill before parliament is to protect crop variety breeders and has nothing to do with Genetically Modified (GM) foods as being speculated.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on Thursday said when the bill is passed into law, it would give the breeders the right to protect crop variety that they develop.

The CSIR at a news conference in Accra to state its position on the bill and the related issues of GM foods, the Director General (DG), Dr Abdulai Baba Salifu, noted that the country seeks to get a better chance of recovering breeding costs and accumulate funds for further investment in crop improvement.

The bill would also encourage conservation of genetic resources, private sector investment into research, flow of outstanding foreign-bred varieties into the country and allow breeders to take advantage of the introduced germplasm to breed better varieties and give farmers the choice over varieties they wish to grow.

Dr Salifu said the bill has nothing to do with GMs and explained that the Biosafety Act, which regulates GMOs which was passed in 2011, allows scientist to begin confined field trials (CFT).

Currently three CFT for rice, cowpea and cotton are ongoing, under strict compliance with the Biosafety Act in Ashanti and northern regions.

Genetically engineering is the process of taking genes or segments of DNA from one organism and putting them into another, the CSIR DG said and explained that GMOs do not contain any bacteria, viruses and chemicals.

“Biotechnology and related fields of science have over the years been used extensively to revolutionise agriculture and crop production and this technique is well established and taught in primary, high schools and core curricula at leading universities across the world, but mentioned as fermentation in our pre-university schools,” he said.

According to him, the argument that GM food causes cancer and other diseases is baseless.

Since the introduction of GMO’s in 1996, regulatory agencies in 59 countries have conducted extensive scientific reviews and confirmed the safety of GM crop with 2,497 approvals on 319 different GM trials on 25 crops.

Some people have expressed concern about herbicides-resistant GM crops, which could hybridise with their wild relatives and result in the evolution of herbicides resistant tolerant weedy relatives, but the CSIR DG says all policies governing GMOs, the world over, address environmental issues.

On the argument of the sovereignty of nations and the survival of it people being at risk, Dr Salifu said the arguments are baseless.

He said GMs could be efficient and time saving as compared to the conventional plant breeding.

Besides pest control, the technology could be used to incorporate value added traits in food crops and also reduce the application of pesticides, herbicides and fertiliser applications.

GMs could also reduce cost by increasing productivity and benefit farmers in terms of increase in net incomes, he said.

He said in China, the use of GMOs resulted in 65 percent reduction of insecticide use, 24 percent increase in yield and a decline in labour use by five to six percent.

In the livestock industry, large amounts of growth hormones found in cows have been obtained from Genetically Engineered (GE) bacteria. When treated with this hormone, dairy cows produce more milk and beef cattle have leaner meat.

In medicines, GE has been used to improve health and corrected inherited genetic defects which are referred to as gene therapy.

GMO technology makes it possible to transfer genes that stimulate antibody formation into harmless microorganism and it is used as a vaccine against diseases.

Dr Salifu quoted Mr Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution as saying: “ Concern in Africa over GM crops were best described as fear of the unknown.”

“The CSIR firmly believes in this assertion too. Those of us publicly charged with the research and development needs of this country have no intention of leading our country into difficulties,” Dr Salifu said.