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6-Regulation: Ghana's MPs receive biotech and biosafety training

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TITLE:  MPs train in Biotechnology
SOURCE: Ghana News Agency
DATE:   05 Feb 2006

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MPs train in Biotechnology

Swedru (C/R), Feb. 5, GNA - A two-day training workshop has been
organised in Swedru for four select committees of Parliament to enhance
the debate on Ghana's bio-safety bill yet to be placed before Parliament
for passage.

The bill addresses key elements such as government policy on bio-safety,
an administrative system, a decision-making system, mechanisms for
public participation and systems for 'follow-ups'. The workshop,
organised by Programme for Bio-safety Systems (PBS), was also to give
committee members on health, environment and science, trade and industry
and food and agriculture an insight into biotechnology, its benefits and
to help demystify biotechnology. PBS is a global initiative instituted
by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to
help developing countries to build the needed capacity for policy
formulation, legislation and implementation on issues on bio-safety

The parliamentarians were taken through the introduction to
biotechnology, National Bio-safety Framework for Ghana, bio-safety laws,
policies, international obligations related to bio-safety, genetically
modified crop plants, developing biotech crops in Ghana and the economic
impacts of biotechnology crops on developing countries. Professor Walter
Sandow Alhassan, PBS Co-ordinator for West and Central Africa, said
biotechnology was a powerful tool that complemented traditional
practices for the manufacture of products or services in the areas of
agriculture, health, industry and the environment. He said the
technology had been successful in some areas but the biggest challenge
as at now had been the use of the technology in agriculture to solve
intractable problems of pests and diseases, declining soil fertility and
to enhance nutrient content of food crops. "Where in the combat of these
constraints, hereditary materials (genes) can be moved across widely
unrelated species of organisms to produce new living organisms, there is
the concern that the new products might not be safe posing hazards to
the environment and human health". He noted that the concerns over the
perceived risks had been at the centre of controversy over the use of
the technology adding, "this training is therefore designed to assist
you gain an insight into biotechnology and its safe use to enable you to
take decisions on its use on an informed basis devoid of emotion."

Mr Alex Owusu-Biney, Coordinator of the National Bio-safety Committee
(NBC), who introduced the MPs to the contents of the bio-safety
framework, said the outline was prepared to put in place a system that
would ensure safe development, transfer, handling and use of Living
Modified Organisms (LMOs) and their products guided by the precautionary
principle of the protocol and also focus on the movement of LMOs and
their products in the country or trans-boundary movements. He called for
continuous capacity building through biotechnology projects and bio-
safety research.

"Continuous public engagement and awareness, making use of the capacity
building initiatives, training in risk assessment and risk management of
reviewers, regulatory agencies should be enhanced." Mr George Sarpong, a
law lecturer at the University of Ghana and also a legal consultant to
the NBC assured the MPs that all the international norms and national
obligations to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of
safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs resulting from biotechnology had
been taken care of.

Participants during question time expressed their fear and concern of
the technology being harmful to human health and the possibility of
Ghana being dependent on the multi national companies like Monsanto
always for seeds but the research scientists allayed their fears that
such products would be subjected to series of tests to ensure their
safety before putting them on the market for public consumption and that
Ghana could also developed its own seeds genetically.

The MPs after the training visited the laboratories of Biotechnology and
Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy
Commission, Kwabenya and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical
Research where biotechnology researches had been conducted to help in
demystifying the subject of biotechnology and to help in the debate in
Parliament on the bill.


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