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Regulated GMO foods are safe - NBA assures

By: Ama Amankwah Baafi

Food produced from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO foods) that have passed through biosafety are regulated and given proper permit is 100 per cent as safe as the conventional foods for consumption, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has assured.

It said that the fact that such foods are being regulated does not mean they are dangerous.

“Water is regulated but is it dangerous? Baby food is regulated and others. If it has not passed through biosafety or nobody has looked at it, we cannot guarantee but GM foods have been eaten by countries such as the United States of America (USA) for 22 years and because of biosafety and system put in place, there has been no sickness because they are always regulated,” the Chief Executive Officer of the NBA, Mr Eric Amaning Okoree, said in an interview in Accra.

He said that if GMO will kill them, they will not eat it.

How safe is our health?
Mr Okoree said food safety assessment is done.

“What is the source of the gene? If it’s from bacteria, is that pathogenic (is it poisonous)? What is the mode of transformation? We also do a compositional analysis (e.g. check if there is any allergenicity to ensure there is no difference between the GMOs and conventional crops, except the added gene,” he outlined.

He added they ensure the safety of the gene before we pass it, “and that is why GMOs have been eaten all over the world and the technology is being adopted fast.

Mr Eric Amaning Okoree, CEO of the National Biosafety Authority

The GMO 
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines the GMO as organisms (plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and / or natural recombination.

This technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, and sometimes “genetic engineering.”

Basically, it allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species.

Experts say that issues concerning GM foods is not new, perhaps, except in Africa because as far back as back as 1996, the USA had been eating it. Europe, however, seem to be trailing a bit, but they are importing GMOs.

The USA is touted as making huge revenue from GM foods and realising there is a huge potential Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Uruguay, South Africa, etc. are at it.
Sudan and Ethiopia (a huge critic initially), started producing GM foods without any law in place and later that they went back to on the right thing.

The regulation on GMOs comes under the Convention on Biological Diversity(biodiversity) which has the objective of Conservation of biodiversity; Sustainable use of  biodiversity; and Equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of biodiversity.

Mr Okoree indicated that GMOs added to the diversity (special life form), but they are specially designed GM and so there is a special protocol to determine how they must be regulated, and it was adopted in 2000. Ghana ratify it in May 30, 2003.

It has the following objectives; Safe development; Safe use; Safe handling and transport of GMOs that may have potential adverse effect on health and environment.

Corn is one of the GM crops available

Ghana’s readiness
Mr Okoree said Ghana is ready for biotechnology because between 2002 and 2014, it worked on its biosafety framework to develop GMOs.

The framework that gave birth to among others, the law, a technical advisory committee to be in place, there should be an NBA to regulate and which had been implemented now.

Under that, there should also be an appeal tribunal to adjudicate all issues of GMOs before they go to a high court and there must be institutional biosafety committees to help, as well as some guidelines and policies developed to help, etc.

He said institutional challenges caused the delay in passing the Biosafety Law, which brought up a Legislative Instrument (LI) / regulations to conduct research on GMOs in 2007, while looking forward to ultimate provision of a law.

Eventually, the Biosafety Law was passed in December 2011 and which established all that were cited in the biosafety framework, including the establishment of a body corporate to be known as the NBA.

Nature of framework
The NBA is the main body and works with seven regulatory agencies, namely, the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Customs Division, the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSDP under the Ministry of Food and Agriculture), and the
Veterinary Service dealing with the local people through the Ministry of Local Government.

The NBA grants permit for five types of GMO use; Contained use (laboratory stage); Confined field trial; Environmental release of GMOs; Commercial release (food safety assessment is done in this case).

The CEO ,however, cautioned that any commercial entity which did not follow the legal procedures to import or introduce GMOs onto the Ghanaian market would suffer the consequences or be fined between 2,500 and 5,000 penalty units or a prison term of five to 10 years.

Impact on agric
The main impact experts say will be social because if farmers get to know that planting GMOs can give then more produce and less stress with weeds and insects / pests, they will go for GMOs.