Ad­dress­ing GMOS’ prom­ise, prob­lems

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - SCIENCE & HEALTH - By Chuk­wuma Muanya, As­sis­tant Editor

THE de­bate over the prom­ise and prob­lems of Ge­net­i­cally Mod­i­fied Or­gan­isms (GMO) has con­tin­ued to rage. GMO has be­come a con­tro­ver­sial topic as its ben­e­fits for both food pro­duc­ers and con­sumers are com­panied by po­ten­tial bio­med­i­cal risks and en­vi­ron­men­tal side ef­fects. In­creas­ing con­cerns from the pub­lic about GMO, par­tic­u­larly in the form of ge­netic mod­i­fied (GM) foods, are aimed at the short- and long-last­ing health prob­lems that may re­sult from this ad­vanced biotech­nol­ogy. Com­plex stud­ies are be­ing car­ried out around the world in­de­pen­dently to eval­u­ate the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of GM foods.

The de­bates over GM foods fo­cus mostly on un­cer­tain­ties con­cern­ing the po­ten­tial ad­verse ef­fects of GM foods on hu­man health and en­vi­ron­men­tal safety. The anx­i­ety among con­sumers can be at­trib­uted to four sources: the dif­fi­culty of the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity in ex­plain­ing con­cisely to the lay pub­lic the bi­o­log­i­cal tech­niques in­volved; con­cerns about the im­proper dis­sem­i­na­tion of GM foods; and the eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples in­her­ent in tra­di­tional food pro­cess­ing; the mis­giv­ings with re­gards to the ad­e­quacy of eval­u­a­tion of the GM foods.

Three ma­jor health risks po­ten­tially as­so­ci­ated with GM foods are: tox­i­c­ity, al­ler­genic­ity and ge­netic haz­ards. Th­ese arise from three po­ten­tial sources, the in­serted gene and their ex­pressed pro­teins per se, sec­ondary or pleiotropic ef­fects of the prod­ucts of gene ex­pres­sion, and the pos­si­ble dis­rup­tion of nat­u­ral genes in the ma­nip­u­lated or­gan­ism.

For one thing, the un­equiv­o­cal dec­la­ra­tion that all GM crops are safe flies in the face of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s (WHO’S) as­ser­tion that “it is not pos­si­ble to make gen­eral state­ments on the safety of all GM foods.” As the WHO noted, be­cause “dif­fer­ent GM or­gan­isms in­clude dif­fer­ent genes in­serted in dif­fer­ent ways” it is nec­es­sary to as­sess them “on a case-by-case ba­sis.”

To do­mes­ti­cate and ad­dress the con­cerns about the safety of GMOS, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has es­tab­lished the Na­tional Biotech­nol­ogy De­vel­op­ment Agency (NABDA) un­der the Fed­eral Min­istry of Science and Tech­nol­ogy (FMST) and the Na­tional Biosafety Man­age­ment Agency (NBMA).

The NBMA was es­tab­lished by the Na­tional Biosafety Man­age­ment Agency Act 2015, to pro­vide reg­u­la­tory frame­work to ad­e­quately safe guard hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment from po­ten­tial ad­verse ef­fects of mod­ern biotech­nol­ogy and ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­isms, while har­ness­ing the po­ten­tials of mod­ern biotech­nol­ogy and its de­riv­a­tives, for the ben­e­fit of Nige­ri­ans.

As­sis­tant Direc­tor/coun­try Co­or­di­na­tor, Open Fo­rum on Agri­cul­ture Biotech­nol­ogy in Africa (OFAB) Nige­ria Chap­ter, Dr. Rose Maxwell Gi­dado, told The­guardian un­equiv­o­cally: “The WHO has given the fi­nal ver­dict that ‘no ef­fects on hu­man health have been shown as a re­sult of the con­sump­tion of GM foods by the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion in the coun­tries where they have been ap­proved.’”

Gi­dado dur­ing a cour­tesy visit to The­guardian, in com­pany of the Re­gional Direc­tor, African Agri­cul­tural Tech­nol­ogy Foun­da­tion (AATF) Abuja, West Africa, Dr. Ab­dou Rhamane Is­soufou Kollo, con­cluded: “Any quest to prove be­yond doubt that GMOS are safe will run into the same road­block, as noth­ing can be proven 100 per cent safe. More than 2,000 stud­ies and 20 plus years of con­sump­tion by hu­mans and an­i­mals have pro­duced no ev­i­dence that GMOS rep­re­sent an un­usual health risk. Ev­ery ma­jor health and reg­u­la­tory body in the world agrees. Crit­ics are left hold­ing out the ar­gu­ment that there is un­known threats lurk­ing in the shad­ows of our fu­ture.”

AATF is a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that fa­cil­i­tates and pro- motes pub­lic/pri­vate part­ner­ships for the ac­cess and de­liv­ery of ap­pro­pri­ate agri­cul­tural tech­nolo­gies for sus­tain­able use by small­holder farm­ers in Sub Sa­ha­ran Africa (SSA) through in­no­va­tive part­ner­ships and ef­fec­tive stew­ard­ship along the en­tire value chain.

Kollo told The­guardian: “In Africa, re­sis­tance to GMO crops is strong. Or­ga­nized groups sup­ported by Euro­peans’ Non Gov­ern­men­tal Or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOS) mostly cause it. Th­ese groups ap­pear very dy­namic. Ex­cited by two re­cent con­tra­dic­tory events about GM crops in West Africa - the de­ci­sion of the Gov­ern­ment of Burk­ina Faso to stop grow­ing Bt-cot­ton; and the de­ci­sion of the Nige­rian Gov­ern­ment to au­tho­rize its crop­ping- the ANTI-GMO pro­po­nents be­came hy­per­ac­tive; they have been or­ga­niz­ing con­certs, ra­dio talk shows, work­shops and con­fer­ences. Their meth­ods con­sist of cre­at­ing con­fu­sion about GMOS and scar­ing the un­in­formed pub­lic of the sup­posed dan­gers of GM crops. Thus, min­eral fer­til­iz­ers, pes­ti­cides, hy­brids and GMOS are of­ten lumped to­gether. It is ap­pears that some of the anti-gmo pro­po­nents are or­ganic farm­ing cru­saders who want to im­pose their views on the so­ci­ety.”

Gi­dado and Kollo urged the me­dia to help in ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic of the ben­e­fits of biotech­nol­ogy to the coun­try and Africa.

Gi­dado said the agency’s man­date is to en­sure ad­e­quate level of pro­tec­tion in the field of safe trans­fer, han­dling and use of GMOS re­sult­ing from mod­ern biotech­nol­ogy that may have ad­verse ef­fects on con­ser­va­tion. She said that there is go­ing to be di­rect and in­di­rect em­ploy­ment and pro­duc­tion of high qual­ity ma­te­ri­als for in­dus­tries re­gard­ing the emer­gence of NBDA in the coun­try.

Gi­dado said that mod­ern biotech­nol­ogy as a term adopted by in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tion to re­fer to biotech­no­log­i­cal tech­niques for the ma­nip­u­la­tion of ge­netic ma­te­rial and the fu­sion of cells be­yond nor­mal breed­ing bar­ri­ers.

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