May 21, 2018
Rejoinder: GMOs do not cause cancer
We write to you from Alliance for Science Ghana seeking to clarify some factual inaccuracies and deliberately cooked untruth churned out by one Dr Borneges Quarshie Nkosana Nartey on Adom FM which was subsequently published on your esteemed website and several other platforms.
As a network of farmers, scientists, researchers, academics, communicators and science-loving people, we at Alliance for Science Ghana deem it a moral responsibility to set the records straight on the false science being preached by the gentleman who appeared on your platform.
GMOs were first introduced onto the market in the mid-90s in the USA, and since then, there has been no single evidence to back the plethora of anti-progress inspired claims that GM foods are unsafe. There is almost consensus locally and internationally within the agricultural, health and scientific community as a whole that GMOs are safe, healthy and represent the future to world food security.
Let’s begin with the specific claim by the gentleman that GMOs can be ‘cancer activators.’ That is nothing but an untruth. No credible study has ever proven that GMOs have caused cancer among the population in countries like America, Brazil, South Africa, etc where they are consumed widely. In fact, there is evidence that cancer rates have been lower over the last 20 years in countries where GMOs are consumed than in countries where they are not on the market.
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 Ghanaians that GMOs cause cancer.
The Dr. claimed that there is a case study of rabbits which were fed with GMO maize and they developed a tumour, claiming this confirms the deadly nature of GMO products. That study by French Professor Eric Seralini was subsequently proven by his colleague scientists who peer-reviewed the study to be ‘inconclusive and unreliable.”
That study was retracted by the Food and Toxicological Journal which first published it in 2012 because the wrong methods were used in coming to that conclusion. For example, he used rats that are pre-disposed to tumours, which means they had a high chance of developing tumours in their life regardless of what you feed them. And the sample size was not big enough. So if the gentleman knew what he was talking about, why would he cite such an example to show GMOs are harmful? What is clear is that Dr Nkosana Nartey did not conduct any research before making this claim. He is only regurgitating the false anti-GMO narrative that has been spewed repeatedly without any evidence to support it.
The said Dr. also gave an instance of someone dying in 2015 in Spain after which autopsy reports showed that he died from eating GMO rice and tomatoes. That is another untruth. First, we need to understand that GMOs are produced through the alteration of the genes of crops to achieve specific objectives like increasing nutritional value, pest resistance, among others.
GMOs cannot be the wholesale terminology for every variety of crop that performs better than existing varieties. In fact, there are a few foods in the world with GMO counterparts on the market including corn, soya, cowpea, papaya, apple, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, potato, squash, cotton, and a few others. There are currently no GMO counterparts of tomato and rice on the market anywhere in the world (although research is still ongoing on them), for it to even get to Spain for the said man to consume and die. Where is this man getting his facts from?
All over the world, we all know what the leading causes of deaths are. Heart diseases caused by unhealthy lifestyles and poor eating habits, as well as respiratory infections, diarrhoea, malaria and all. Not GMOs.
So if this gentleman claims that 70% of premature deaths in females and 50 % of pre-mature deaths in males are caused by GMOs, right away, it is clear that his statistics fall flat in the face of conventional wisdom and evidence readily available to all of us. A lot of these individuals and organisations are peddling such untruths to build up fear among the populace about the kinds of foods they are consuming, and use that as a way to sell their own brands of foods and healthy living. We must open our eyes to their marketing strategies.
The foremost global health institution, the World Health Organisation is categorical in its position statement on GMOs that; “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” http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/. This is a position that Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority, National Biosafety Authority (which regulates GMOs in Ghana), and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research which is the leading research organisation in the country, all hold.
The world’s most extensive study on GMOs published in 2016 by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the USA noted; “The bottom line is that there is no particular reason to believe that currently available GM crops pose any health risk or that they are different with regard to their safety and nutrition from their conventional analogues. It is especially compelling that over the last two decades, animals and humans exposed to GMOs have not experienced any relative increase in any major disease.”
The American Medical Association is equally categorical that; “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years. And during that time, no overt consequences of human health have been reported and/or substantiated in peer-reviewed literature.”
The position of the European Commission on GMOs is as follows: “the main conclusion to be drawn from efforts of more than 130 research projects covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups is that biotechnology and in particular GMOs are no more risk than conventional plant breeding techniques.” That position is also shared by the Royal Society of Medicine in the United Kingdom which says “food derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years with no reported ill effects.”
Those on this fear-mongering campaign against GMOs all over the world and in Ghana know exactly what they are doing. They are blocking the chances of saving the millions of children dying from poor nutrition in Africa and elsewhere.
They are stopping farmers from getting access to tools that can help prevent pests and diseases that can cause up to 100% yield loss on farms and leave them in perpetual poverty. And they are blocking the chances of reducing pesticide pollution of our atmosphere which endangers the health of our ecosystem and puts all of us at risk. All for their own parochial interests. They should not be allowed to take the world for a ride because they think they are wiser than all the rest of us put together.
John Awuku Dziwornu Reuben Nana Yaw Quainoo
Chairman, Alliance for Science Ghana Executive member, Alliance for Science Ghana