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Pros and Cons of GM Foods: Analysis of Ghana

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AVAILABILITY OF GENETICALLY(G) MODIFIED(M) FOODS IN GHANA-HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PROS AND CONS OF GM FOODS

BAWA ABDUL-AZIZ

INTRODUCTION

Genetically modified foods (GMFs) are an outcome of modification of plants involving movement of genes (DNA), the genetic substances, from a plant or bacteria species, or animal, into another plant species. Scientists are increasingly able to identify which gene or genes codes for a particular trait or characteristics, and can isolate these genes coding for certain desired trait, spliced them directly into the plants to modify. Methods required to generate GM crops are contemporary and relatively complicated, genetic modification is in most respects an advancement of what has been known as traditional plant breeding for many years and it is upon this believe that the U.S regulatory policy on GMOs is coined. The U.S assert that GM and non GM are substantially equivalent, a fair interpretation of the precautionary principle in their view. The EU believes that GM and non GM are potentially different and their regulatory policies regarding GMOs are relatively stricter (Sarah L etal. 2008).

The dispute over the use of food and other goods derived from genetically modified crops instead of conventional crops, and other uses of genetic engineering in food production is becoming increasingly a topical issue in recent times, involving various stakeholders; scientist consumers, Biotechnology companies and NGOs. Fact is, in every human endeavor, there are unknown dangers, but the debate on GM crops has too often been centered on sentiments, interests and regard for intact natural world devoid of human manipulations and undue exploitation in any form. In as much as the GMO technology is touted to have enormous potential in the advancement and development of the world’s poorest countries, having the capacity to produce; Drought-resistant crops, Salinity- resistant crops and crops resistant to specific pests that have blighted the developing world for centuries, it also have its negatives(cons). But as to the question of whether developing or poor countries should embrace and apply the technology in their Agricultural sector in their drive to addressing Africa’s food security concerns remain a policy decision that African Government would have to take, through broader consultations with stake holders, with focus on the pros and cons of GMOs, considering also the fact that GM foods are already with us.

Potential risks of genetic engineering technology has been in the talk shop hitherto , but so far there is little evidence from researchers in studies conducted that these risks are real. Genetically modified crops can offer benefits surpassing those that emerged from innovations in traditional agricultural biotechnology. Following are a few examples of benefits resulting from applying currently available genetic engineering techniques to agricultural food production systems.

Upsurge in food productivity; the technology has helped increase crop productivity by genetically conferring at the molecular level such specific desired qualities, such as; disease and pest resistance and increased drought-salinity tolerance to crops. Researchers have the capacity in recent times to identify and cut certain genes known for disease resistance from other species and splice them into important crops to modify them. Researchers from the University of Hawaii and Cornell University developed ring spot virus resistant papaya varieties and were able to successfully transfer one of the virus’ genes to papaya to create resistance in the plants. Other examples such as; genes spliced from naturally drought-resistant plants, inserted into other desired crop varieties to confer in them enhanced drought tolerance characteristics.

Enhanced crop protection; crop-protection technologies had also been an option to providing cost-effective alternatives to curbing pest and disease plagues which could severely lower yield and product quality. Genetic engineering technology has been applied to such crops as; corn, cotton, and potato which resulted in massive successful transformation of these crops, which can now synthesizes lethal proteins that causes death of certain insects when they feed on the crops, the Bt maize and cotton are typical examples that can be cited in this regard. In some instances, for effective and better control of pest and at much cheaper cost than existing technologies, the transgenic crop-protection method is often relied on.

Improvements in food process; Chymosin is one typical example of a GM product origin that has purity surpassing natural renin from calf which hitherto the discovery had been the one choice for cheese production. Chymosin was also the first food product resulting from genetic engineering technology to receive regulatory approval, in 1990. It substituted calf rennet in the cheese-making industry and is now widely used in about 60 percent of all cheese manufactured. It has benefits including; enhanced purity, a reliable supply, a 50% cost reduction, and high efficiency cheese­ yield.

Improved nutritional value

Genetic engineering has also granted new options for adding up the nutritional value, flavor, and texture of foods. Genetically modified soybeans with higher protein content; potatoes with more nutritionally available starch and an improved amino acid content; beans with higher essential amino acid; and rice with the ability to produce beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, to help prevent blindness in people who have nutritionally inadequate diets.

Better flavor; Flavor can be altered by enhancing the activity of plant enzymes that transform aroma precursors into flavoring compounds. Transgenic peppers and melons with improved flavor are currently undergoing field trials. Fresher produce; Genetic engineering can result in improved shelf life of produce keeping them in their fresher and natural intact state able to withstand harsh and delayed transport situations of such fresh produce, giving consumers access to nutritionally valuable whole foods and preventing decay, damage, and loss of nutrients, the Flavar savr tomato is an example. Other positives include; “Golden rice,” which is a GM rice variety, very rich in beta-carotene, capable of meeting the total vitamin A requirements in developing countries with rice-based diets. This crop has potential to significantly improve vitamin uptake in poverty-stricken areas where vitamin supplements are costly and difficult to distribute and vitamin A deficiency leads to blindness in children.

Possible risks associated with GM crops (Cons)

Health-related issues

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance genes are used as marker genes to identify and trace a trait of interest that has been introduced into plant cells. Use of these markers has raised genuine concerns though that new resistant strains of bacteria will emerge. The upsurge of diseases that could not be treated with common antibiotics has been raised as a serious health concern by opponents of genetic engineering technology. The potential of this risk occurring is substantial between humans and bacteria because of existence of naturally occurring bacteria inhabiting the gastro-intestinal tracts, making transfer of resistant genes feasible from food consumed to normal microbial flora.

Environmental and ecological issues

Potential gene escape and super weeds syndrome

Opponents of genetic engineering technology have held the view that transgenic crops might out cross with related weeds, possibly resulting in “super weeds” which become more difficult to control. One concern is that pollen transfer from glyphosate-resistant crops to related weeds can confer resistance to glyphosate. While the chance of this happening, although is extremely small, but is not inconceivable. Concern has been raised that, the technology can improve a plant’s capacity to “escape” into the wild and offset ecological balances, leading to unsustainable environmental consequences.

Impacts on “non-target” species

The issue of transgenic crops having an effect on non-target species upon their released into the environment, triggering unforeseen and dire consequences has been noted by environmentalist. Researchers at Cornell University demonstrated that pollen from Bt corn could kill caterpillars of the harmless Monarch butterfly, in a research conducted, where they fed Monarch caterpillars with milkweed dusted with Bt corn pollen in the laboratory, half of the larvae died. But follow-up field studies under real life conditions proved the opposite , Monarch butterfly caterpillars is practically highly unlikely to come into contact with such laboratory volumes of pollen from Bt corn that has possibly drifted onto milkweed leaves and feeding that much to harm them.

CONCLUSION

In Ghana the GM Food Debate is gathering pace, however it is saddening that the majority of the discussions to date in our traditional press and social media are bereft of depth and accuracy. The truth is there may be unknown long term dangers as well as benefits aside what is known now of the technology. This is scientific innovation and should be encourage to continue in developing even more food crops that might be able to withstand climate change effects when it finally descend on humanity in full bloom. The technology in my candid view is only an extension of what had earlier gain acceptance as Conventional plant breeding, which is somewhat chaotic in its mode, notwithstanding the fact that it takes decades to get confused outcomes. If insulin and other enzymes of GM technology origin are not contested, why should GM foods, is it the specificity in the identification of desired traits coded for by certain identified genes sequences that can be cut out and spliced into plants made possible by the technology, to confer those specific traits of interest, the issue of contention? The timing of its arrival should rather be the issue of concern, as to whether is rife for the developing world and in Ghana’s case to embrace the technology now. Considering Ghana’s capacity in terms of the needed logistics, competent and well-resourced personnel to conduct meaningful research to ascertain what has been touted as benefits (pros) or effects (cons) of the technology to be true or not. Also worth considering is whether Ghana is in, or close to food insecurity crises, and many other factors can be considered critical to help arrived at decisions that would benefit all.

REFERENCES

Alan R, Derek B, Mike G, Prue L, Julie H, Michael L and Derek O; ``Genetically modified crops; the ethical and social issues’’, Nuffield council on Bioethics, 28 Bedford square London WCIB 3EG. Pp. 5-67; 100-145.

Domingo JL (2007). "Toxicity studies of genetically modified plants: a review of the published literature". Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 47 (8): 721–33.

Nelson, Gerald C, ed. (2001). ``Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture: economics and politics’’. Academic Press. ISBN9780080488868. Retrieved 2013-05-12.

Sarah L, Tim G. GMOs and the developing World: A Precautionary Interpretation of Biotechnology. BJBIR:2008 vol.10, 395-411


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