National Biosafety Authority (NBA) is allaying the fears of Parliament, which is expressing concern about illegal importation of genetically modified products.
A report of Parliament’s Environment, Science and Technology Committee requesting approval for the 2019 budget of the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology said they are worried about the illegal introduction of GMO products into the country without the requisite approval from the National Biosafety Authority.
The committee has tasked the regulator, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), to take steps to halt the trend by speeding up processes for the establishment of a biosafety lab.
“The illegal importation of genetically modified foods is gradually becoming a source of worry,” vice chairman of the committee, Robert Kwasi Amoah said on the floor of parliament as the house debated the report which was eventually approved.
“The biosafety authority is therefore in the process of establishing a lab to test foods that come into the country. This is to ensure that laws on genetically modified foods are not flouted. The committee commends the authority for the initiative and urges it to complete the laboratory within in a year,” Amoah added.
Parliament in 2011 passed the National Biosafety Act to allow for the production and commercialisation of GMOs in the country. The law requires that any individual or organisation seeking to produce or import GMOs and GMO products first seek approval from the NBA.
Till date, Eric Okoree, CEO of the Authority says, “officially, the NBA has not received an application to introduce GMOs onto the market.”
Reality on ground
But food products marked as containing GMO ingredients including cornflakes from South Africa and elsewhere have been found in major supermarkets in Ghana, prompting the red flags from parliamentarians.
In 2013, then Head of the Biosafety Unit of Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), Kwame Dei Asamoah-Otchere, confirmed it is likely some genetically modified products may have entered the country without approval.
“Considering the porosity of our borders, coupled with ignorance of business people, it is possible that some GM foods or some GM ingredients contained in the foods may have entered Ghana in non-commercial quantities,” Asamoah-Otcheretold Joy News.
CEO of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) Eric Okoreetells Joy news there is nothing to fear.
“I won’t say we are at risk because the Food and Drugs Authority has been on the ground all the time regulating food. And they have been checking the safety of it. And so without the lab, the FDA have been looking at the safety of GMO foods in the country,” he said.
Member of Parliament takes dissenting position
Commenting on the concerns from parliamentarians, Yaw Frimpong Addo who is member of the Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs Committee of Parliament said there is nothing for his colleagues to be fear about GMO products.
“Seriously speaking, there is nothing to fear about the technology. They should not worry at all. To date, if there is any report that indicates that through GMO consumption, some 5,000 people had died in the world, then I will support the opposition. But no,” he said.
“If you say illegal GMO products and you have evidence of it, task the Food and Drugs Authority, go to the shops, pick these things up, run the tests and see if these are dangerous foods that can cause an epidemic in the country. The budget report, what is in there, its problematic,” the legislator added.
Mr. Addo who is also chairman of the Government Assurances Committee of Parliament attributes the fears being raised to lack of understanding of what exactly GMOs are.
“Looks like everyone is afraid of the technology and it’s because we have not done enough education on the technology. A lot of them talk from perspectives that you can clearly see that they don’t understand,” he said.
Ghana is on course to getting its first locally produced GMO crop onto the market in the course of the year. Field trials to produce local varieties of GMO cowpea with inherent resistant to pests have been completed.
Trials are also ongoing on GMO rice that uses less fertiliser, is salt tolerant, drought resistant and can use water more efficiently.
Research Scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Dr. Richard Ameyaw Ampadu says there is the need for Ghana to quickly commercialise these crops so people are not tempted to import such improved varieties from other countries whether legally or illegally.
“I am happy that these issues are coming up because the more we delay, the more the temptation for people to bring GMOs in. Because the products are continuously being developed,” he said.
“In Nigeria, they have approved GMO cotton. Very soon, they will approve of cowpea. And as they release, people can just push it in. We need to get these varieties being done locally as soon as possible so that no one comes to plant weeds among our wheat,” Dr. Ameyaw added.
He assures GMO varieties being developed in the country are going through all necessary risk assessment tests to ensure safety. “We can assure parliament that what we are developing in this country, the monitoring is so strict and so strong, we can be sure it is safe. We can have it with no fear,” Dr. Ameyaw noted.
The National Biosafety Authority meanwhile says it is working towards establishing the biosafety laboratory to test imported foods.
“We are almost there. We have set the lab up. We are looking for one equipment which will be ready soon. So this year, by June, it is going to be commissioned,” NBA CEO Eric Okoree said.
This, the authority says will ensure only those GMO products with the requisite approvals are allowed in as it pertains in other countries.
In late 2017, Nigeria ordered the return of about 90 tonnes of GMO maize that were being imported from Argentina, not because they were bad, but because the requisite approval had not been sought for them in accordance with local biosafety law before importation.
“The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) had to step in to avert the release of the maize consignment into the country due to the failure of the importing company to obtain a GM seed import permit from the NBMA,’’ Rufus Egbegba, the Director-General of NBMA, disclosed at a media briefing.
Dr. Ameyaw of the CSIR wants authorities in Ghana to be equally vigilant and ensure the country’s laws on GMOs are not flouted.
“The people at the border would have to be vigilant, the people building the laboratory would have to fast track the process. And we all have to open our eyes,” he said.