The Minister of the Environment instructs the Biosafety Authority to make scientific decisions on GMOs

The Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Dr Kwaku Afriyie, has tasked the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) with making scientific decisions on GMOs for the country.

Speaking at the inauguration of the NBA board of directors, the minister said that while the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is controversial, it needs to be addressed.

“Look at the question supported by science and not by feelings. Because in my office, I know that (there are) products related to GMOs waiting to move on to the next phase… You have to make sure that the organic products are used in the interest of the country ”, a- he urged.

He told board members, “This is a very controversial issue. He looks up and cools down. But it will never go away. Because as you know, we use a lot of GM products in this country. In fact, it is something that must be resolved once and for all. So your responsibility is to educate Ghanaians ”.

Professor Charles Antwi Boasiako, who is the new chairman of the board, said they would work in the interests of Ghanaians.

“GMOs are happening all over the world. We will make sure it benefits Ghanaians. We will not do anything that is against the law, ”he told media in a later interview.

Stuck situation for GMO cowpeas

Although scientists have completed development of the GM cowpea variety also known as Bt cowpea, the lack of a board of directors for the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has blocked approval processes. .

Scientists from the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) managed by the State Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) submitted documents in January this year to the authority requesting the environmental release of the variety after 12 years of research.

But the authority has asked scientists to hold on and reapply after getting a new board, after the previous one’s term expired in January 2021. Now the board is in place. , paving the way for a new request and eventual decision.

“Now, with the board in place, they can submit. The role of the board of directors is to ensure that the risk assessment is carried out, that the various processes are followed and that a decision is taken on this subject, ”explained NBA general manager Eric Okoree in an interview.

“We have heard about the campaign from some Ghanaian farmers for the release of Bt cowpea that SARI has been working on. When the request comes to us, we will review it in a transparent and objective manner and seek the public’s opinion in the decision.

“In accordance with the law, the board of directors is the decision-making body and it defines the political direction of the authority. They now have the task of directing the decision-making of the authority. The decisions relate to the safe use, transfer, handling and development of GMOs in Ghana, ”Okoree added.

After that ?

Scientists at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute have indicated that they will soon reapply for the environmental release of the GM cowpea variety. It will take between 90 and 180 days for the authority to come back with a decision after the request for approval is made.

“It is supposed to be released into the environment. In doing so, we look at the information provided by the application, the risk assessment to be done by the technical assessment committee, then we look at the socio-economic considerations, then the information provided by the public. It’s the transparency side, ”explained Mr. Okoree.

“The intention is not to cause genetic erosion. We will make sure that when we use this cowpea our traditional varieties will always play hand in hand, ”said Prof Boasiako.

What is GM cowpea?

Cowpeas or beans are a popular, protein-rich staple crop that is typically cooked and eaten along with other sources of carbohydrates. It is considered the “meat of the poor” and is popular in low-income households who find it difficult to afford sources of animal protein. The crop is however very vulnerable to the deadly pests Maruca, pod borer, which sometimes cause farmers to lose 80 to 100% of their cowpea seeds.

To control the pest, farmers typically spray their fields with pesticides eight to 12 times during the crop’s 12-week life cycle. But the genetically modified variety of cowpea, into which a gene from a natural bacterium has been introduced, is resistant to the pest. Confined field trials have shown that it reduces the need to spray chemicals on fields to just 2, and delivers yields up to 5 times higher due to reduced pest destruction.

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