Business News of 2014-07-26

GMO debate: Scientific Evidence versus Common Sense

A Genetically Modified (GM) food debate saw proponents of the technology basing their argument on scientific evidence whiles opponents based theirs on what they referred to as common sense.

Scientists on the panel insisted that the biotechnology of which GM was a sub-set have been scientifically proven to be safe for humans and came with better yield while the opponents said issues of food were rather based on common sense.

The debate preceded the Sixth African Nutrition and Epidemiology Conference organised by the Africa Nutrition Society (ANS).

The conference was to provide a forum for African region cross-learning on moving the food and nutrition security agenda in a sustainable manner at the country level, explore ingredients for success and address some existing challenges.

The debate brought together scientists and renowned subject experts, health professionals, academics, politicians and policy makers, religious leaders, students and the general public to examine and have an informed debate on applications of biotechnology in general and particularly GM foods as a contributor to Africa’s food and nutrition security problems.

Panel member Dr Florence Wambugu, a scientist and Chief Executive Officer of Africa Harvest, explained that the technology was not a monster as opponents made it seem but the selection of traits to enhance seeds for better productivity.

She said the technology was not a silver bullet but one of the tools that could help Africa grow more and stop begging the west for food.

“Africa has a serious malnutrition problem and issues such as biotechnology and food fortification should be a major concern,” she said.

Nutritionists on the panel, including Dr Paul Anamua, Public Health Nutritionist, argued that biotechnology had benefits especially where nutrition was concerned.

Giving an example of the long cooking time for beans which has led to most people abandoning the high protein food, isolating bacteria to shorten the cooking process was deemed very beneficial.

Dr Anamua noted that GM foods had benefits but raised safety issues such as labelling and said such issued needed to be thoroughly addressed to nib the fear of the unknown in the bud.

Professor Kwabena Bosompem, a member of Ghana’s Bio Safety Committee, said the regulator was obliged to ensure that GM foods that entered the country went through rigorous procedures to ensure its safety, and that GM food, which was not safe, would be rejected.

He said in the field of medicine, all medicines were derived from natural processes but as time progressed chemical syntheses were used but that did not make drug production dangerous.

“It is the same with GMOs. We cannot just do anything in the laboratory and put on the market without ensuring its efficacy. We have not yet released GMOs into the market. Biotech is not hazardous and they are regulatory framework in place which conforms to international standards,” he said.

However, Mr Yaw Opoku of Food Sovereignty differed from their assertion saying issues of food was about common sense and not science and added that the problem of food was not availability but who controlled food.

For him, manipulating genes could have dire consequences for humans and added that GMOs meant seed colonization and seed slavery.

He argued that the Plant Breeders Bill was part of a foreign corporate plan developed by the G8 countries and engineered by USAID to control all of Ghana’s agriculture.

According to him, the long term intention of those corporations was that every seed that was planted in Ghana would be owned by the giant agribusiness corporations who would own the intellectual property rights to every seed.

Professor Walter Alhassan, a biotechnology expert, allayed those fears and noted that farmers who used such seeds for small scale farming would be exempted from royalties but those who wanted to go commercial should pay as with any profit making venture.

He discarded the notion that farmers do not buy seeds and that doing so meant colonization and seed slavery.

Civil society representatives at the debate said it was very crucial for people to attend such forums with open mindedness and be prepared to listen and be informed and that entrenched positions do not help such discourses.

When people do not have open minds they can come out with weird ideas which are not based on empirical scientific evidence.

Dr Billy Bosu, a medical practitioner, called for more investment in research and more dialogues to kill the fear of the unknown which led to mistrust.

Source: GNA
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