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Opinions of Sunday, 15 December 2013

Columnist: Atta-Boakye & Ankomah

Imported GMO's in Ghana

Genetically Modified Food (GMO) (also known as biotech or genetically engineered food)

Ken Atta-Boakye

Esther Ankomah

Genetically Modified Food (GMO) has become a hot topic for discussion in the Print Media as well as Talk Shows in Ghana these days. Emphasis is placed on the short-term benefits as against the long –term threat it poses in future. We are deeply worried about the chemicals that have adverse effect on humans and on the land. Ghanaians need to be well-informed about GMO’s to make a sound decision about it. To this end we have taken the trouble to research into the Pros & Cons and would humbly share these with the general public in order for our political leaders to make judicious decision on GMO’s.
What Is a Genetically Modified Food?
The process of genetic modification involves inserting a gene from bacteria or a virus (or a gene that helps plants survive the application of highly toxic pesticides) into an organism where it would normally not be found. The purpose is to alter the genetic code in plants and animals to make them more productive or resistant to pests or farming techniques, like being doused with chemicals that would ordinarily kill them. Common genetic modifications include: adding antibacterial genes to plants, introducing genes that make the organism bigger or hardier, making new foods by adding genes from existing foods, and adding animals genes to plants and vice versa.

Soybeans that have been genetically modified, for example, can survive applications of herbicides that would destroy an organic soybean plant. Similarly, you might have read headlines recently about the controversy over genetically modified salmon. In this case, fish genes are tweaked with a growth hormone that causes the fish to double in size far more quickly than it usually would, so fish farmers can increase their profits. Strengthening soybeans and fattening fish might not seem controversial on the surface, but there are some very real concerns here. Understand that the issue of GMOs is quite complicated.

Pros
Government and agribusiness promote the benefits of GMO’s to the public. According to them, they are doing this to increase the food supply, help underfed nations, and assist farmers. Some of the benefits they claim are better food quality and taste, and making crops disease resistant so we have higher yields and more efficient production. GMO’s allow the farmer to skip steps in the production process, like spraying herbicides and pesticides, because the crops are already resistant. In some crops they claim the foods are modified to contain additional vitamins and minerals. These are supposed to be beneficial to people in countries that do not have an adequate supply of these nutrients. They claim that since fewer pesticides are used, it is good for the environment. They claim growing GMO plants is supposed to allow farmers to spend less money producing more food and do less tilling to remove weeds, thereby protecting the soil. Their most important claim is that GMO’s are safe for human consumption.

Cons
The biggest concern is that there has not been enough testing of GMO’s and no real long term testing to detect possible problems. Another problem is allergic reactions; genetic modification often mixes or adds proteins that weren’t indigenous to the original plant, causing new allergic reactions to the human body, according to Brown University.
Some GMO foods have had antibiotic features added to them so they are resistant to certain diseases and viruses. When humans eat them, these antibiotics features persist in our bodies and make actual antibiotic medications less effective.

Another risk is that the modified genes may escape into the wild. It has been warned that if herbicide resistant genes cross into wild weeds, a super weed that is resistant to herbicides can be created. Making plants resistant to bacteria can cause bacteria to become stronger and harder to kill. GMO advocates claim that, since many plants already have the ability to produce their own pest repellents, GMO plants, which can be engineered to produce their own pesticides, are no different. Wrong! Mother Nature did give plants an ability to defend themselves from natural enemies, but we’ve been eating these plants for a very long time, so our bodies recognize these substances and are accustomed to dealing with them.
The pesticides from GMO plants are new to humans, and, right now, we don’t know how our bodies will handle them. However, we definitely do know that pesticides (a term that includes herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides) are linked to cancer, neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s, and a number of other very serious health consequences.

There have been isolated cases of animals dying after eating genetically modified foods.
According to Dr. William Davis, “the new genetically modified wheat has a new protein call gliadin. This gliadin binds to the opiate receptors in human brain and in most people stimulates appetites, such that we consume 440 more calories per day.”

Monsanto, the corporation that owns patents on many GMO seeds, assures us that these foods are harmless and points to studies – many of which the company has conducted itself – demonstrating that. These studies, however, have been widely criticized for their obvious bias. The Monsanto studies only prove that data can be manipulated, not that the products are safe.

Meanwhile, the shocking outcome of a European study with lab animals has created even more questions. Rats in the study that were fed a popular GM corn developed horrifically oversized tumors and organ damage. The fact remains that there are no long-term studies demonstrating that GMO foods are healthy – or unhealthy. But given the results of studies we have seen, GMO products must be avoided whenever possible.

Just because some politicians want their cut from the contracts they import or bring into Ghana does not mean they should turn Ghana into “Guinea Pigs” experiment for GMO’s. The price is too high for our future kids. It is time for our law makers to think about the people and the land of Ghana. The MP who spoke on Adom radio at 6pm news on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 did not know what he was selling to Ghanaians, especially the farmers. We think he has little knowledge or none at all about the topic he discussed – GMO. He was leading Ghanaian farmers into the valley of destruction. The MP’s or the law makers have to study the pros and cons of GMO. Have they tested the chemical in Ghana to know the effect on the people and the environment? They need to be well-informed about the side-effects of any new technology they import into the country. Our dear farmers should be protected from the perils of GMO.

What Does the Latest Research Show?
Today, most people carry a heavy burden of toxins, ranging from plastics to heavy metals to compounds found in drugs and – nowadays – food and beverages. One of the major concerns about GMOs is that they could easily increase our toxic load, leading to even more cancer diagnoses. It turns out that even supposedly “safe” levels of one substance can cause cancer when combined with a “safe” level of another chemical. A new study from Texas Tech found that when low levels of estrogen are combined with small amounts of arsenic, lab animals were nearly twice as likely to develop prostate cancer as animals that were not exposed to estrogen and arsenic.

Are GMO Foods Safe?
To put it bluntly, no one can really answer that question. Meanwhile, although these foods are being sold in the U.S., GMO foods are either banned or severely limited throughout much of Europe, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany. And a long list of other countries are following suit, including Japan, China and Brazil. In fact, Monsanto has virtually stopped lobbying for GMO planting in Europe due to low demand by farmers and consumers.

References:
• Brown University: What is Genetically Modified Food?
• University of California: San Diego: 20 Questions About GMO Food
• Iowa State University: The Debate on Labeling Genetically Modified Food
• Oklahoma State University: GMO Facts
• Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations: Weighing the GMO Arguments
• http://www.newportnaturalhealth.com/2013/07/gmos-the-pros-cons-of-genetically-modified-food/
• http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/are-biotech-foods-safe-to-eat


Jointly submitted by:
Ken Atta-Boakye (kenattaboakye@gmail.com)
Esther Ankomah (esthernkmh@yahoo.com)