Wednesday, 24 January 2018
Biotechnology: Benefits outweigh risks

Biotechnology: Benefits outweigh risks

By Ama Kudom-Agyemang

WHEN it comes to the adoption of biotechnology in Ghana, the national position has been established in the Science and Technology Policies. The first Policy (2000)highlighted biotechnology as one of the tools to assist increase agricultural productivity, agro-processing and industrial delivery. While the second Policy (2010) highlights biotechnology as one of the technologies to be used to promote agriculture, health and industry. 

Biotechnology is the process through which scientists change the genes of plants and animals by introducing into them desirable genes from other species. The produce or products of this process are known as genetically modified organisms, GMOs or GM foods. 

And to ensure human safety and that of the environment in agricultural biotechnology and its products in the country, the needed legal framework, guidelines and institutional arrangements have been put in place. Thus, the utilization of biotechnology is backed by a regulatory regime consisting of the Biosafety Regulation, 2007 (L.I 1887) for research on GMOs and the Biosafety Act, 2011 (Act 831) to regulate biotechnology and gmos. 

To ensure best practices are standardized in biotechnology and gmos, several guidelines have been developed. They include: the National Biosafety Guidelines in three parts as follows: ‘Part I – Introduction to Biosafety,’‘Part II – Guidelines for Laboratory and Field Work,’ and ‘Part III – Movement of Regulated Materials and Commercial Releases.’ Others are ‘Guidelines on Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms in Ghana,”“Guidelines on Public Participation, Information Sharing and Access to Justice with respect to Genetically Modified Organisms,’ and the ‘National Biosafety Framework for Ghana.’

Besides, there are also a number of survey reports that support agricultural biotechnology and GMOS in Ghana. They include: ‘Survey Report on Programmes for Safe use of Biotechnology/Biosafety and Existing Status of Biotechnology and LMO’s (Living Modified Organisms) in Ghana;’‘Survey Report on Existing Legislation and Legal instruments Related to Biotechnology in Ghana;’ and ‘Survey Report on Regional Mechanisms for Harmonisation of Biosafety Activities.’

This was made known at a workshop on biotechnology related issues at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, by Daniel Fosu, the Country Coordinator of the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) based at Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC),.

The workshop was part of the sensitization agenda of the Ghana Chapter of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in collaboration with the KNUST branch of Alliance for Science (AFS), a global agricultural communication platform that seeks to improve understanding of science based agricultural technology. 

Mr. Fosu’s presentation on the topic: ‘Socio Economics and Regulation of Biotechnology in Ghana,’sort to allay the fears of people who think biotechnology will disadvantage Ghanaian farmers rather than benefit them, enslave farmers to rich seed producing multinational bodies, and endanger the health of Ghanaians and the environment. 

He explained to the about 300 students from different faculties of the university, who attended the Friday 30th September event that institutional arrangements were in place to ensure compliance with established standards.

The institutional arrangements comprise the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), which reviews applications and communicates the outcome; the NBA Board, which is the decision making body, the Technical Advisory Committee that conducts risk assessment and provide scientific advice; Institutional Biosafety Committees that represent the Authority at the research level and the Appeals Tribunal, which settles issues of aggrieved applicants and to which the general public can appeal. 

In a complementary presentation, a lecturer with the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology of the KNUST, Dr. Peter Twumasi, made a case for the adoption of GM foods in his presentation on “’Introduction to Biotechnology.

He stated: “More advanced and efficient technologies are needed to meet the world’s food demand in the midst of growing world human population estimated at an annual rate 80 million people, massive hunger in third world countries affecting about 780 million people, high child mortality of one child per every two seconds due to starvation, high incidence of malnourishment and undernourishment…” 

Dr. Twumasi added that “through agricultural biotechnology plants are better resistant to weeds, pest and diseases with higher crop yields to create more efficient use of land, less uses of herbicides and pesticides.”

The National Coordinator of OFAB Ghana, Dr. Margaret Ottah Atikpo, said the chapter has been interacting with different stakeholders across the country to sensitise them about the technology. She said “public awareness raising is on course, but there is need for more funding to intensify the education.” 

During open discussions, a contributor said, “People who oppose GMOS should not be branded as ignorant.”  In response to this statement, the Director of BNARI, Dr. Kenneth Danso who was chairman for the event said “the idea is not to brand anti-GMOS, but rather for all to understand the technology, its processes and benefits.” Earlier in his opening remarks, Prof. Danso urged all who do not understand the technology to be patient and open minded in order to learn more about it.

The Head of Department of the Biochemistry and Biotechnology of KNUST, Dr. Hilary Zakpaa, open the workshop noted: “despite the benefits provided by modern biotechnology, it is not yet fully embraced…” adding, “divisions will subside in future, when it becomes clear that the benefits outweighs the risks.” 

Later in an interview, a Student Ambassador of Alliance for Science, Godsway Asare Boadu, explained that the Alliance seeks to bring scientific innovation specifically information on biotechnology to the layman. She said “this is important because people who do not understand the technology are spreading false information and our job is to demystify the technology  and our message is that this technology can address malnutrition and poverty… it is an option and it is not a bad one.”



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