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Opinions of Thursday, 30 January 2014

Columnist: Samson, Gbolu Mawuli

Genetically engineered foods & excessive chemical usage food production-the way forward to Ghana’s food safety and security????

The media in Ghana is becoming a more powerful tool in championing a lot of important issues in Ghana today. They need a lot of commendations from all Ghanaians. However, the gradual shift to exposing what I will call perceived corruption in government need to be looked at again. Well, probably that is where they can easily be noticed to acclaim their fame and celebrity titles. Notwithstanding that, I will once again say kudos to those relentless journalists like Azure Manasseh, Anas Arim-Yaw Anas and many others who are helping in the fight against corruption through their reportage, with particular reference to the most recent uncovering of the root at GYEEDA.

Just as scandals such as the Woyome saga, Isofoton, GYEEDA, the infamous Vicky leaks among others invited a lot of inks and air time; there are other equally important issues on health and other fields that must also be given the necessary attention through the ink and air waves.

The subject of Genetically Engineered foods came into the lime light for discussion in the last half of last year. It would interest you to know that even though it had the media attention, the radio frequency and ink allocation to the subject was just negligible as compared to politics and perceived corruption. Yes, I agree that corruption has eaten deep into our fabrics, which I believe is one of the root causes of abject poverty among the less privileged in our society. The collective war against corruption would, in effect go a long way to better the life of that poor farmer, fisherman, fishmonger and the overtaxed formal sector worker. Food crops produced at the remote part of our country may not be left to perish if this farmer had access to motorable road with the aid of monies retrieved from the activities of corruption. I am reliably informed that the judgement debt dashed out to Woyome ALONE could construct a first class road for the people within the stretch of Atebubu via Kwame Danso to Kwadjokrom, Sene East District, in the Brong-Ahafo Region, where it shares significant economic boundary with Northern Volta, Kete-Krachi.
Now, employing the power of the ink and radio frequency to wage the war against harmful health and food policies such as the Genetically Engineered foods would not be a war to arriving at a victory for the less privileged alone; you and I and everyone else who consumes food crops produce in Ghana or elsewhere. That does not exclude the lawmaker who may sit in parliament to pass the bill for Genetically Modified food crop production or consumption in Ghana.
The high dependence on chemicals for farming in Ghana today has not been dealt with properly. In an attempt to add insults to injury would be the legalization of Genetically Modified foods in Ghana in addition to the indiscriminate chemical food production we are already battling with. The long term health implications will just be enormous to curtail.
Apart from the “galamsey”, most water sources have also been contaminated through the activities of these chemicals used in farming. Literature has it that the long term consumption of foods sprayed with chemicals being used on our farms today exposes human health to a lot of cancers. Over reliance on these chemicals for the production of food crops makes our present and future human generation or spicy endangered.
We seem to be having countless retailers in every corner of our farming communities who engage in the sale of these chemicals. This calls for intersectoral collaboration among the Food and Drugs Authority, Ministry of Health and the Agricultural Ministry to ensure that the sale and proliferation of these agro chemicals are regulated; just as how drugs sold over the counter for human consumption are being regulated. Meanwhile, if there are regulations to check the over sale and its application, then it must be strengthened.
I have noticed that when I was young, the tomatoes and garden eggs I harvest from the family’s backyard garden, free from any chemical intervention, have sharp contrast in colour to the present day tomatoes and garden eggs produced under severe chemical intervention. I have also noticed easy separation of the water content of these vegetables named above after they have been grinded in my earthenware bowl, and left for few minutes- that is the ones bought from our open markets today. On the other hand, that could not be described of the ones used to be produced from the family’s backyard garden and the school farm, years ago. What do you observe/experience when you consume our raw fruits and vegetables these days?? I do not know what you experience, but of late, I do experience diarrhoea and itchy tongue after consuming carrots, cabbage and sometimes oranges. Indiscriminate use of chemicals in their production, I guess.
I am very certain that we have very fine food safety policies to protect the innocent consumer, but I could also say these policies, if they exist, they have been thrown to the dogs. Employees (experts) may be on gargantuan salaries and attending series of workshops on food chain management, but are doing practically nothing to ensure food safety in this country. Who must be the right watchdog to keep such people on their toes to carry out their job description??? The same watchdog that exposes corruption and the reckless politician- the vibrant Ghanaian journalist, I think.
When the subject of Genetically Engineered foods came up for discussion in this country, one would have expected our journalists spearheading the crusade against it; with support from experts on the subject. The few media houses who discussed the subject were rather flooded with political communicators who skewed the discussion to the advantage of which ever political party they owe/pay allegiance to.
The long term health implications of Genetically Modified (Engineered) food consumption is my main concern in this write-up, but the economic toll it will have on this country cannot also be relegated to the ground.
Genetically modified foods are un-natural way of producing food. In other words; altering the seeds nature has given to us.
If Genetically Modified food could cause lesions in rats, then you and I could imagine what it will do to us (humans). The safety of Genetically Modified food production is not verified to the maximum yet, and I do not think authorities in this country would want to use Ghana as the lab rats to test the safety of Genetically Modified foods. There is also enough scientific literature supporting the attributable risk between cancer and Genetically Modified foods. We are already battling with excessive use of chemicals in food production; which also has strong association with cancer. Endorsing the production of Genetically Modified foods would only mean we are signing our death warrant within the shortest possible time.
Besides, Genetically Modified foods also have strong adverse effects on the immune system. Our immune system, I would say, is the soldier of our body. It has naturally been conditioned to fight off enemies (pathogens) that enter our body to cause infections leading to diseases. It is just as how our security men; the navy and soldiers watch over our territorial to prevent the enemy from invading; same could be said of our immune system. Our immune system defends us against pathogens and other things that make us sick. White blood cells and other chemical weapons of the immune system rush to find and destroy the pathogen (germ). Special white blood cells and chemicals called antibodies stand guard. Under normal circumstances these antibodies grab or hold onto a pathogen that shows up and fights it off; hence prevents us from getting sick most often. The point I am driving at is that, in the event of consuming Genetically Modified foods, which has the greater tendency of altering our immune system, the immune system (soldier of the body) would be rendered a toothless dog in fighting pathogens that may attack our body. A study conducted in 2008 showed that feeding mice with Genetically Modified food for 30 days caused an immune reaction and altered the number of cells that regulated the immune function in the body.
Genetically Engineered foods are also pesticide resistant foods. Pesticide resistant foods can also create super-creatures. If you know why quinine, at a point in time became less effective in fighting plasmodium parasite in humans, you would appreciate the possible easy emergence of these super-creatures through Genetically Engineered foods. These super-creatures cannot be controlled easily. This will create a problem in managing their numbers and that is another threat to crop production. Who knows, Ghanaians may becoming super –humans too.
The negative economic connotation for endorsing the production of Genetically Engineered foods in this country would be that: there will be a threat to food security and long term high dependence on the “well to do” countries. If we accept to go the Genetically Engineered way of food production, in the next 10-20 years, our natural food crops will be extinct; paving way for the Genetically Engineered food crops. Do we (Ghanaians) have the capacity to engineer food crops for production to feed ourselves as a developing nation?? No, is my answer. Do we then live ourselves at the mercy of hunger?? No; we must go importing with millions of Ghana cedis from the already rich nations or those who have the capacity for the production, such as China, India, Brazil and the likes. That should be another form of mental slavery, but this time, agricultural or economic slavery.
Fellow Ghanaians, policymakers, vibrant journalists and stakeholders let us wake up and say no to Genetically Modified foods. In my opinion, it is not the remedy to food starvation in any developing nation, rather, it would worsen our woes of extreme hunger and poverty; rendering us poorer and in the long run, make the “well to do” nations richer. If it were a good initiative, the World Health Organization would have recommended it as one of its strategies in achieving goal one (1) of the Millennium Development Goals; Reducing Extreme Hunger and Poverty. We will be losing greater portion of our human resource asset to diseases attributable to Genetically Modified foods. Any government who values its human resource base for development will not append its signatory to this defacto economic treaty. The adage: “a healthy nation is a wealthy nation” says it all.

Author: Gbolu Mawuli Samson
National Service, Asunafo South District Health Directorate (Public Health).