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 loose 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 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
OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT NANA AKUFO-ADDO BY ALLIANCE FOR SCIENCE GHANA
Dear Mr. President,
First of all, congratulations on your swearing in as President of the Republic of Ghana. We are sure Ghanaians voted for you not necessarily because of any physical, material or spiritual considerations, but because they were convinced you have superior ideas to solving the challenges this country faces and they trust in your ability to deliver on those plans. We expect you to work as hard as you can to deliver on those promises so you do not disappoint them.
We bring you warm greetings from Alliance For Science Ghana, a network of scientists, agriculturalists, researchers, civil society persons, academics and farmers working to promote access to scientific innovation as a way to enhance food security, improve environmental sustainability and raise the quality of life in the country.
As Ghanaians, we also have some expectations of your administration that we find it necessary to write to you about. We additionally have some ideas we will want to share with you on how your administration can help improve agricultural production, boost food security and make Ghana a role model in agricultural development so other countries can come learn from us.
Obviously Ghana is not a hungry country. As far back as 2013, it became evident that we had managed to meet the Millennium Development Goal on hunger reduction, two clear years before the expiration of the goals having reduced the absolute number of undernourished people by half between 1990 and 2012. Something the world rightly celebrated us for achieving.
But this country still faces major food security challenges that require all the attention it can get from the first gentleman of the land – your good self. This country spends more than $1.5 billion importing food annually, majority of which are foods we produce here.
We lose about $400 million annually to post-harvest losses. One in every five children under the age of five years in this country suffers from stunting as a result of malnutrition.
And about 1.2 million people, representing five percent of the population remain food insecure. The above-enumerated statistics speak to the fact that we are not as comfortable when it comes to our food needs as the impression is sometimes created.
Mr. President, you made the following promise in your party’s manifesto ahead of the 2016 elections that we will want to remind you of now that you are president: “Our vision for the next four years is to modernize agriculture, improve production efficiency, achieve food security, and profitability for our farmers, all aimed at significantly increasing agricultural productivity.”
This commitment to yourself and your team gladdens our hearts because if you succeed in achieving this vision, poverty will be reduced in rural farming communities and a lot of our food security challenges would be solved.
There are two things we will encourage your administration to do if you can bring this vision to fruition. First, put scientific evidence at the center of decision-making when drafting and implementing policies for the Agric sector. And secondly, prioritise Agric innovation instead of relying on the same old ideas to solve the complicated problems of the sector that keep getting complex as the days go by.
One promising agricultural innovation that we will urge your administration to pay attention to and prioritise is the science of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food production, or genetic engineering or agricultural biotechnology. As we are sure your agric team has told you, following the passage of the National Biosafety Act by parliament in 2011, processes have been ongoing to commercialise GMO foods in the country.
The first batch of GMO crops is expected on the local market in the next year or two. We look forward to these processes running smoothly without any hindrance under your watch because scientific evidence (both physical and social) points to the fact that GMO technology is a good innovation that the world needs to ensure food security.
There have been lots of controversies surrounding the production of GMO crops, inspired mainly by misinformation and the pursuit of personal, parochial interests by people who do not see anything good in a technology they do not understand or have deliberately closed their minds to.
But the reality is that the technology of GMO crop production and its consumption has been proven to be safe for human consumption, environmentally friendly, and economically beneficial to ordinary farmers.
Statistics indicate that the growing of GMO crops increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015, with about 18 million farmers growing it now (90 percent of them being small scale farmers) in 28 different countries, 20 of which are developing countries.
This makes GMO technology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. The statistics also show that farmers globally have benefited from at least a 50% reduction in the amount of insecticide application thanks to the growing of GMOs, thereby reducing farmer exposure to insecticides and ensuring a more sustainable environment and better quality of life.
Hundreds of scientific institutions including Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority have repeatedly made it clear that their research points to no adverse effects of GMO crop consumption on human health. The latest such research result is what was published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in the US last year which concluded that after what is probably the most extensive study on the impact of GMOs, they “found no substantiated evidence that foods from genetically engineered (GE) crops were less safe than foods from non-GE foods.”
Agriculture has seen a lot of transformation over the centuries, from the earliest methods of hunting and gathering, to ‘domestication’ when man brought seeds home to re-grow. Then came the more controversial methods of mechanization, then came the application of chemicals to food production in the form of pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers, then to the development of improved crop varieties through conventional plant breeding, and today, genetic engineering.
All the latter innovative technologies of food production faced one level of pushback or the other at the time of their introduction that is no different from what GMOs are facing today. They all triumphed over the hurdles that sought to hold them back. So, we are convinced that GMOs will eventually survive this. But at what cost?
During the campaigning season ahead of the elections, your colleague presidential candidates and some of your ‘generals’ made a lot of noise about plans to launch a ‘Green Revolution’ in Ghana’s agric sector if they win the elections.
The ‘Green Revolution’ they speak of refers to encouraging the use of improved crop varieties and increased application of agro chemicals to improve crop productivity. Currently across our African continent, there are ‘a million and one’ such ‘Green Revolution’ initiatives and projects running.
The sad part is that this ‘Green Revolution’ being championed across Africa today swept across Latin America, Europe and Asia more than 40 – 60 years ago at a time when Africa just looked on like spectators. Half a decade on, we are now going back to chase those same technological innovations to feed our people.
We sure don’t want the story to be same with the technology of GMO crop production. That is what is defining the science of food production today, and the earlier we buy into it, the better for us as a country. We have seen demonstrations and court actions and recently petitions to you to block the ongoing processes to introduce GMOs into the country. If we heed to those demands, the same story will be told 50 years from now when we will come back seeking to introduce GMO technology at a time when the world would have moved on to even more advanced technology.
Mr. President, we know you are a smart, open minded politician of many years experience who understands the importance of scientific innovation to the development of our country. We urge you this day to stand by scientific innovation and support agricultural biotechnology development in our country. It will be a choice of progress over retrogression. It will be a choice of a better tomorrow over a difficult today. And it will be the choice of a food secured Ghana over a malnourished population.
John Awuku Dziwornu
Rufai Ahmed Braimah
For Alliance for Science Ghana