The founding director of the West Africa Crop Improvement Center (WACCI) at the University of Ghana, Professor Eric Danquah, says that scientific reports have confirmed that foods produced through organism technology genetically modified (GMO) are safe.
“It’s been 27 years since the first commercial GMOs were released, and I don’t know of a single credible issue in food and feed regarding GMO safety. On the contrary, there is a very strong scientific consensus globally on GMOs, just as scientists are on climate change,” he noted.
He said that official scientific reports on the safety and benefits of GMOs have been published by the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the National Academy of Sciences (USA), Royal Society (UK), American Medical Association. (USA), French Academy of Medicine, European Commission, US Food and Drug Administration, Society of Toxicology, Institute of Food Technologists, among others.
“As a trained scientist and parent, the safety of these products is of concern. I want to be trusted and I dream of the health of the next generation and generations to come. I will not compromise my conscience by speaking so confidently on this subject if I have not understood the stakes. I have been exposed to the science behind GMOs since 1986 at Cambridge, and have followed the developments to date,” he said.
Prof Danquah was speaking at a science communication workshop in Accra organized by the Alliance for Science, WACCI, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB). He was speaking on the theme “Communication as a tool of scientific evidence in decision-making – a case for GMOs”.
The themed 4-day workshop, Speaking Science Ghana, brought together senior and junior scientists with academic institutions and research organizations across the country for training in best practices in science communication.
The National Biosafety Authority is currently considering an application from the Savanah Agricultural Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, seeking approval for the environmental release of Ghana’s first GM crop, Bt cowpea. .
He says that although respected government agencies, including Ghana’s National Biosafety Authority, regulate the development of GMOs around the world and around 40 countries have approved such products, caution is warranted.
“These are the most studied products in the history of crop development… My view is that we don’t give scientists carte blanche. He noted that each product must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” he noted.
“But I hasten to add that they are not the Holy Grail. They cannot solve all of our food insecurity problems, but the technology used to produce them is an important tool that, if used wisely, would have a huge impact on our food insecurity problem and take out many farmers and poor consumers. We need to use them along with all the other technologies that we have used so well to develop products to quickly ignite a green revolution in Ghana,” Prof Danquah added.
He observed that first-generation GMOs did not encourage developing countries to adopt the technology because commercial agriculture was the focus and a complex, costly and unpredictable regulatory system.
“Now there are second-generation biotechnologies (including genome editing, synthetic biology and engineering biology) that focus on pro-poor traits.
“These second-generation biotechnologies create opportunities to transform agri-food systems through nutritionally healthier crop varieties, disease resistance, reduced pesticide use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse, improving climate resilience and contributing to sustainability and biodiversity conservation.”
He said some GM crops currently available include drought resistant varieties of maize, which can improve yields during droughts in northern, transitional and coastal areas of Ghana.
Professor Danquah recounted that 24 years ago he and a colleague published a review article in the Ghana Journal of Science on the promises and challenges of sustainable agriculture.
“Nevertheless, we recommended the adoption of biotech crops only if they offered the most effective means of solving plant breeding problems. Today, I argue that genetically modified (GM) crops have become an important part of the sustainable agriculture toolbox, alongside traditional breeding techniques,” he said.
“We have moved in the right direction, despite significant challenges. What we need to do is to strengthen the National Biosafety Authority and other regulatory bodies such as Food and Drugs Authority and Ghana Standards Authority to effectively and efficiently regulate not only the development and use of biotech products, but also the movement of bioengineered products to and from the country,” he added.
“We need appropriate, science-based and cost-effective regulatory systems. This calls for harmonization of regulations in the sub-region. As a result, we reduce the time and cost of processing applications and eliminate duplication of work,” Professor Danquah emphasized.