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9-Misc: African journalists 'key partners in biotech development'

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

TITLE:  Journalists 'key partners in biotech development'
SOURCE: The Guardian, Tanzania, by Judicate Shoo, PST, Addis Ababa
DATE:   10 Feb 2006

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Journalists 'key partners in biotech development'

Journalists are key partners of the United Nations Economic Commission
for Africa (ECA) in the development, transfer and application of modern
biotechnology and that they should not be neglected.

'If journalists understand the truth about biotechnology, then, they
would be able to report more accurately in a manner likely to clarify
the controversy over the application of this modern times technology,'
Josue Dione, Director, Sustainable Development Division of ECA said here
on Wednesday.

Dione made the remarks when opening a three-day regional workshop on
'Improving media coverage of biotechnology in Eastern and Central
Africa' attended by 35 journalists from ten countries.

He said biological technology or biotechnology is a term used to
represent a continuum of different bio-techniques ranging from simple
non-controversial tissue culture to genetic engineering or gene-splicing
embodied in modern biotechnology.

Biotechnology, he said, was now considered as the leading technology of
the 21st century with tremendous potential to address economic, social
and environmental issues afflicting the poor in the developing nations.

He said: 'It is as you know, a tool of great opportunities and many
challenges, its potential impacts and benefits are enormous in the areas
of agriculture development, heath care, trade, environment and natural
resources management, industry energy development et cetera.'

Dione added that biotechnology, in particular, provided a way forward in
the areas where earlier methods were less successful in the above
mentioned areas.

However, he reiterated that no tool, in recent times, has been as
scrutinized and beset with controversies as modern biotechnology.?

'These controversies are particularly overwhelming in food and
agriculture,'he noted.

He added: 'Today, the same public opinion, which is quick to accept the
innovations and hope generated by biotech in the field of health, is
also quick to resist its application in food and agricultural production.'

Dione further said that genetically modified food is easily referred to
as unsafe Frankenstein food; it is a monster that is inevitably bound to
destroy its creator and everybody in its paths.

'Interestingly,' he said, 'insulin, which is obtained through
genetically modified bacteria, is widely used by millions around the
world to relief among others diabetic cases.'

He warned that no risk free technology ad nobody claims that modern
biotechnology is risk-free. "Every activity in life carries some degree
of risk.

And, no doubt, there are legitimate concerns about several important
aspects of biotechnology, including hose relating to biosafety and
biodiversity, which we should not underestimate, he related.

'At the same time,' he noted, 'let us not forget that thousands of road
fatalities are recorded in Africa every year, but we still enjoy driving
our cars. The fear of plane crash has not stopped us from flying.'

He further told the journalists from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda,
Burundi, Ethiopia, Cote 'de Voire and Ghana that many conventional crops
cause allergic reactions, and yet, we accept these risks and consume
these crops.

He says we also accept that some foods are riskier than others, and
while we may handle them with more care, we still eat them.

'Genetic modification is not new. Ever since man turned from hunter-
gatherer into breeder and farmer, he has tamed animals and plants and
altered - sometimes deliberately - their genetic makeup,' he said.

'Therefore,' he added, 'agricultural practices have not been 'natural'
for 10,000 years, with the exception of wild berries and wild mushrooms,
virtually all the grains, fruits and vegetables we eat today (including
'organic' ones) are genetically modified.

Potatoes, tomatoes, oats, rice and corn, for example, are derived from
plants created during the past half-century by extensive cross
hybridizations that transcend natural breeding boundaries.

He concluded by telling the journalists that in this case, considerable
effort is needed to convince those who, for one reason or another, have
already made up their mind against GM foods, no matter what the facts are.

'Bio-scientists have not been able to do the job. They need you, and the
daunting challenge you will face is to succeed where they have failed,'
he noted.


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