The use of genetically modified organism (GMO) technology in the production of improved seed varieties is not risk-free, a research scientist at the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agric Research Institute (BNARI) has said.
Dr Daniel Osei Ofosu stressed that no other technology is risk-free, noting various ancient and modern technologies for food production, as well as other innovations like flying airplane and using electricity, have their negative sides.
He questioned whether airplane accidents and electric shocks have stopped human beings from relying on these technologies to make the world a better place, adding, “there is nothing like zero risk technology nor action.”
The scientist noted crops produced using the GMO technology can be said to be safer than those produced using conventional plant breeding procedures because the earlier goes through more rigorous tests.
“Conventionally produced crops are only assessed when they are ready for release. But with GMOs, assessment begins from the lab to growth chamber to confined fields before general release,” Dr. Ofosu who is also Country Director of Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) said at a biosafety workshop on the campus of the University for Development Studies in Tamale.
The workshop was organised by CropLife Ghana, an umbrella body of more than 15 agro-chemical and input dealers in the country.
It brought together members of CropLife Ghana, Seed Traders Association of Ghana, seed producers, farmers and opinion leaders in the northern part of the country for education on biosafety.
“We are interested in any technological advancement which at the end of the day will make the farmer have more yield, have better income and be better off.
We are basically interested in making every Ghanaian appreciate that the world is moving on and it is time we embraced technology in all its forms,” Frederick Boampong who is Program Manager of CropLife Ghana explained.
Following the passage of the National Biosafety Act by parliament in 2011, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is undertaking field trials of GMO cowpea, cotton, and rice before they are allowed onto the market.
These crops are either resistant to pests or tolerant to unfavourable soil conditions or have increased nutrient contents. They are not expected on the local market until after 2018 when the trials are expected to be completed.
GMO seeds are produced through the laboratory manipulation of seeds to introduce desired characteristics from other living organisms into them.
A number of Civil Society Groups have protested the introduction of the technology, claiming there are inherent negative health, environment and economic implications for their application.
But Director of BNARI which is an institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission Prof. Kenneth Danso disagrees.
He explained the method of GMO seed production is only an improved form of conventional breeding procedures which is applied only when all other methods to fix a particular food production challenge fail.
Prof Danso said GMOs will help enhance productivity on the farms and ensure “food security, higher economic benefits for farmers, a safe environment through reduced use of pesticides and production of more nutritious crops.”
Former Director-General of the CSIR Prof Walter Alhassan told participants the global GMO seed industry is growing rapidly and Ghana must not be left out in the spread of the latest technology driving the Agric sector.
He quoted research from other parts of the world to show that GMO seeds have increased the profit margins of farmers who have adopted them drastically.
Coordinator of the Seed Traders Association of Ghana, Thomas Havor, said farmers are yearning to get access to GMO seed varieties, once they have gone through the necessary regulatory procedures, saying “the earlier we get into production using GMO seeds, the better.”