Rejoinder: Peasant farmers caution Ghanaians against consuming GMO foods during Christmas
We at the Alliance for Science (AfS) Ghana write to clarify a few issues raised by the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) in a recent statement that was published by your outfit (https://www.myjoyonline.com/business/2017/december-23rd/peasant-farmers-caution-ghanaians-against-consuming-gmo-foods-during-christmas-festivities.php), and subsequently republished by other websites, cautioning Ghanaians against GMO foods.
As a group of scientists, farmers, researchers, government workers and civil society staff who are working to promote science and technology as the surest way to advance the development of our country, we are worried about this desperate effort by the PFAG to throw dust into the eyes of Ghanaians over GM foods.
The first point we need to clarify is this: there are currently GM foods on the Ghanaian market. Scientists are currently undertaking trials of Bt cowpea (which have an inherent resistance to attacks by the pod bearer pests), and NEWEST rice (which is nitrogen efficient, water resistant and salt tolerant). These seeds are still undergoing trials and have not been released onto the Ghanaian market yet and so it is quite misleading for the PFAG to be warning Ghanaians against them.
You can’t call processed foods that have been imported into the country like cornflakes and other finished products genetically modified. Only living things have genes for them to be modified. Processed foods are ‘dead’ and cannot have genes to be called genetically modified. So, this false alarm by the PFAG is obviously not scientific.
Also, claims by the association that GMOs should be resisted at all cost because of its claimed negative health and economic implications are untrue. What is even more laughable is the claim in the statement that “GMOs are dangerous to health, are a leading cause of carcinogenic diseases.” That is a palpable falsehood that has been peddled over and over again and is now being entrenched as truth.
In the United States of America, Brazil and other American countries where GM foods have been consumed for more than 20 years, there is no evidence linking the consumption of GMOs to cancer and other health hazards.
Look at the following statistics: In America where more than 80 percent of all corn, soya bean and cowpea consumed are GMOs, the rate of cancer per every 10,000 people is 318.0. But in Denmark, the rate is 338.1. In France, it is 324. In Belgium, it is 321. In Norway, it is 318.3, according to data from the World Cancer Research Fund International.
The point is; all these European countries where GMOs are not grown have far higher cancer rates than the US where it is consumed widely. So let no one deceive the Ghanaian populace that GMOs cause cancer. There is no scientific evidence to back the claim that GMOs cause any health diseases.
In fact, the World Health Organisation is emphatic in a note on its website that: “No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market… GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.” So where is the PFAG getting their facts from?
The other claim that GMOs will harm Ghanaian farmers economically and make them lose the ownership of their seeds is also inaccurate. In Ghana, no industrial firm is involved in any of the current ongoing GM food trials that are being done. They are being done by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and sister international research agencies. Farmers will have the opportunity to re-plant their GM seeds without any risk of legal action when they are out on the market if they so wish.
Also, the PFAG is claiming that GMOs have failed to increase yield as was expected. The correction is this; currently, there are no GM crops that directly increases yield. GM crops on the market are only herbicide resistant, resistant to attacks by pests, or have increased nutrition. That first two outcomes could impact yield positively and that has been seen even in neighbouring Burkina Faso.
Over the eight years period that farmers in that country grew GMO cotton until they were phased out because of problems with fibre length, national studies showed that the growing of Bt cultivars in Burkina Faso led to a 22 percent increase in yield over conventional cultivars and households recorded an average profit gain of 51 percent. So let no one deceive Ghanaians.
Every respected scientist in this country and all over the world are convinced GMOs to hold the key to the future of food security and Agric sector development. Including the renowned heart surgeon and now Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, Prof. Kwabena Boateng who said earlier this year at the inauguration of the board of the National Biosafety Authority that: “biotechnology is so important and we cannot develop without it.” The unscientifically inspired fear mongering activities over GMOs must stop. GM foods have repeatedly been proven to be safe and let no one demonise the technology for their own parochial interests.
John Awuku Dziwornu
For Alliance for Science (AfS) Ghana