GMOs Good or Bad: Busting the myth through research

Biotechnology and genetic engineering have the potential to do for agriculture what mobile technology has done for the communications sector in Africa, a renowned Harvard University scholar, Professor Calestous Juma, once said.
Juma said this when he was in Uganda for a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni, advocating for the adoption of Genetically Modified Orginisms (GMOs).
He, however, cautioned that it would be detrimental to adopt genetically modified products without proper research, clear, flexible and supportive biotechnology regulations.
Accordingly, adequate research on genetically modified products is needed if the African continent is to embrace them. Research is needed to clarify whether they are good or bad for Africa and her citizenry.
Zimbabwe’s Secretary for Science and Technology Development, Professor Francis Gudyanga, believes that it is the task of the National Biotechnology Authority (NBA) to research and detect the presence of the GMOs in imports at all of the country’s entry points.
“There is a provision that GMO’s should come in milled form. However, in this case of imported GMO grain, the National Biotechnology Authority should supervise its milling,” Professor Gudyanga said.
Professor Gudyanga added, “The harmful effects of GMOs are not yet fully known since they have been around for less than 20 years, a period not long enough to provide conclusive evidence concerning their effects on health and the environment.”
Adequate research is needed to clarify certain issues concerned with the consumption and adoption of GMOs in countries within the African continent.
For example, there are people who believe that GMOs present a significant threat to humans. In a book entitled “Seeds of Destruction: The hidden agenda”, a leading researcher, Frederick William Engdahl, says GMOs are harmful to human beings in a number of ways.
He says the United States and four Aglo-American agri-business giants plan to dominate the world by patenting animal and vegetable life forms to gain worldwide control of the market and make it all GMO there by using it as weapon to reward friends to punish enemies.
Citing food as a powerful weapon, Engdahl predicts a situation whereby weaker nations are coerced into giving up their raw materials, or face starvation.
Other problems associated with GMOs, according to Engdahl, include udder inflammation mastitis among dairy cows and deformed calves born from parents that consume GMO milk in that country .The impact of the milk to those who consumed it remains unknown.
In a paper entitled “Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods”, Steven Lendman says massive changes occur in the natural functioning of genes in genetically modified plants.
Native genes can be mutated, deleted and permanently turned off.
The inserted gene can become truncated, fragmented mixed with other genes, inverted or multiplied and the GMO protein it produces may have unintended characteristics.
To effectively research thoroughly on the issue, stakeholders in the field of biotechnology need to put in place appropriate legal, institutional and administrative arrangements for the safe and responsible application of genetic modification. These legal instruments should be in the form of Acts and policy documents and they should empower the responsible authorities to evaluate and approve the importation, exportation and research on the development, contained use, release and marketing of GMO products.
It is also the responsibility of African governments to conduct field trials on genetically modified crops. The Chairman of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences, Professor Christopher Chetsanga, has been advocating for Zimbabwe to consume and grow GMOs. Thus, for people to have confidence in GMOs, research should be done to clear air on the so-called negatives of them.
Prof Chetsanga said it is important to identify the good and bad elements about GMOs adding that further testing of GMO crops enshrouded with uncertainty should be carried out.
“I am for GMOs and I feel that as a country we are just playing a losing game. I have been in America were a lot of money has been poured into GMO research and they continue to allow GMOs to flourish,” he said.
African countries must copy South Africa. South Africa has adopted a 50 percent production policy of GMOs. The country has conducted extensive research and developed its maize to give high yields per hectare.
“False claims are being floundered about GMOs. I have conducted several researches and it’s unfounded that GMOs are harmful. Some people just want to block the importation of GMOs,” he said.
It is important for countries within and across the African continent to identify the good and bad elements about GMOs. To do this, further testing of GMO crops enshrouded with uncertainty should be carried out.

July 2013
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