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2-Plants: GMO debate hits up in Ghana

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GMO Debate Hits Up in Ghana
SOURCE: Public Agenda, Ghana, by Isabella Gyau Orhin
DATE:   16 Jan 2006

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GMO Debate Hits Up in Ghana

The Coordinator of the Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS) for West
and Central Africa Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan has said Ghana can
produce its own genetically modified seeds that farmers can keep.

This he said is possible only when government builds the capacity of its
scientists as well as absorbs the huge costs that would be involved on
behalf of the farmers. "We can put a gene in the seed to enable farmers
keep them but the public sector must be ready to absorb the cost," he said.

Prof. Alhassan was reacting to criticisms at a meeting in Accra to the
effect that biotechnology and genetically modified seeds will lead to a
situation where few companies such as Monsanto will dominate world food
production.The meeting was to launch the report of the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech systems (ISAAA).

He said conventional Ghanaian breeds of maize such as Ekomasa, Dada Ba
and Mama ba can all be genetically modified to improve their yield and
other value.

He explained that companies remove the gene that makes seeds geminate in
order to make profit from farmers who have to depend on them all the time.

If a company develops seeds for farmers that they can keep, that company
will collapse since no farmer will go back to them for seeds-hence the
need for government to absorb the cost.

Prof. Alhassan said, "If we do not start building our capacity, guard
and direct our research as well as pass our biosafety laws we will be
completely dependent on foreign countries who will be exporting
genetically modified products to us," he explained.

According to Prof. Alhassan who was once the director of the Centre for
Scientific the various universities and other research institutions in
the country can be resourced to produce safe and nutritious genetically
modified crops for the country. Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) are
said to be a combination of genes from different organisms.

Relatively, biotechnology has been defined by the Convention on
Biological Diversity as "any technical application that uses biological
systems or derivatives there of to make or modify products or processes
for specific use.

Since their introduction to the world market some years back, GMOs have
been embroiled in controversy over their safety for humans and the
environment leading to their rejection in some countries with others
developing safety laws to reduce their risks. Critics of GMOs say it
could have potential human health impacts in the areas of allergens
transfer of antibiotic resistant and unknown health hazards.

Access and intellectual property issues have generated hot debates
around the world between various scientists as well as companies and
civil society groups. A couple of years ago, South African Countries
such as Zambia and Zimbabwe hit by famine refused to accept genetically
modified food aid from the West.

The debate got interesting when the UN Economic Commission for Africa
(UNECA) joined the proponents of biotechnology in African agriculture.

But this was not without a caution.

UNECA said in a policy research report dubbed "Harnessing Technologies
for Sustainable Development" released at the 2002 World Summit for
sustainable Development that "Under the right circumstances, modern
biotechnology could speed up Africa's agricultural productivity to
sustainability and expedite reductions in poverty and food insecurity,"

In an interview with Public Agenda, a lecturer at the Department of
Botany University of Ghana, Dr. Elisabeth Acheampong said genetic
modifications are just one technique in biotechnology.

According to her biotechnology which is not knew has several benefits
such as rapid multiplication which is being used to develop pineapples,
getting rid of infections in plants and also to avoid abortion in plants
after fertilization.

She recommended biotechnology saying, "Our development depends on it, we
need to get informed, educate the people, make informed decisions and
select the techniques that are useful to us," she said.

Ghana has developed its biosafety framework which has not yet been
passed, although some Universities are training biotech experts while
some genetically modified products have found their way into the country

Prof. Alhassan said there is the need to pass the law quickly to check
some of these things, the cooking oil he discovered which was made from
genetically modified soybean is not harmful.

Prof. Alhassan also agrees that biotechnology is not knew to Ghana.

He says some practices in the past in Ghana consist of biotechnology.

Supporting Prof. Alhassan, Prof. Samuel offei of the College of Consumer
Agric Sciences of the University of |Ghana said Ghanaians have been
involved in biotechnology without knowing it.

He said beer is a product of biotechnology since many enzymes are used
in its preparation.

He said current research is trying to incorporate Vitamin A into rice
while biotech soybean continues to be the principal biotech crop in 2005.

An expert on biosafety, Alex Owusu Biney said biosafety is a management
system that reduces the risks resulting from modern biotechnology.

He said Ghana is a signatory to international protocol that expects the
country to develop regulations on it to regulate movement of GMOs across
the countries borders among others such as the Cartegena Protocol.


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