Ghana considers new rules to enhance its GMO regime

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

June 20, 2019

Ghana’s parliament is considering new regulations that will help facilitate its safe adoption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The rules, which would ensure the safety of GMO foods and further refine regulatory procedures, received the endorsement of renowned physician Dr. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, who is also Ghana’s Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation.

In a 15-page memorandum to parliament that accompanied the Biosafety (Management of Biotechnology) Regulations 2019, Frimpong Boateng wrote: “With the ever increasing global population with attendant food needs, and with an estimation that a child dies every two seconds worldwide from starvation, there is a great promise in the use of this technology to benefit not only the farmers, but also the Ghanaian society.”

He added: “Biotech also creates foods with better texture, flavor and enhanced nutritional value and foods with longer shelf life for shipping. Finally, genetic modification can create an essential sustainable way to feed Ghana.”

The renowned medical doctor, credited with performing the first open-heart surgery in Ghana, told members of parliament that GMOs can help protect the environment and ensure reduction in use of pesticides and fertilizers. “And the technology creates foods with better yields thus ensuring more efficient use of land resources, less use of herbicides and other pesticides, and reduced use of machinery on farmlands, thereby protecting the environment,” he said. “Soil salinity has become a major problem in agriculture in Ghana… we need to research the possibility of using genes of salt tolerant plant species in our agricultural crops.”

Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng

He said biotechnology is also actively employed in the micro-propagation of forests, horticultural and medicinal plants for the improvement or development of high-yielding pest- and drought-resistant food crops, and bio-fertilizers, as well as in the formulation of new drugs. “Modern biotechnology can create varieties of plants which are better tolerant to herbicides in effective weed control and or resistant to pests and other diseases,” he explained.

The Biosafety Regulations 2019 would operationalize the parent law allowing for the introduction of GMO foods into the country, the National Biosafety Act 2011, which parliament passed eight years ago. The document outlines how the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) established under the parent act will work to ensure safety of GMO foods. It also lays out specific committees that will help the authority regulate GMO foods, the processes of application, how to obtain permits for import and export of GMOs, how monitoring and enforcement of GMOs should be done and how public education on GMOs should be conducted.

The measure has been referred to the subsidiary legislation committee for consideration.

GMO technology has more potential than conventional and organic agriculture

In his memo to parliament, the science and technology minister noted that GMOs have a demonstrated positive impact on agricultural productivity with respect to yields and great potential for addressing Ghana’s food needs of the country. In drafting the new regulation, he said they took into consideration the role of conventional and organic agriculture in Ghana’s food security systems, which he said require large capital investments, extensive use of pesticides, fertilizers and high labor, among other factors.

“The above technologies (conventional and organic agriculture) have been practiced in Ghana over the years but have not been able to provide the needed food and health securities because of the disadvantages associated with them,” he noted.

These types of agriculture cause a “decline in soil productivity due to wind and water erosion. Conventional agriculture is the single largest non-point source of water pollutants… Organic farming requires more work… with the foods being more expensive,” he explained.

“GMOs have the potential of addressing these disadvantages and therefore become an effective complemental technology,” Frimpong Boateng told MPs. “These regulations will help the country put in place measures to ensure that we derive the optimum benefits from biotechnology — a technology which would significantly impact on the national development agenda, especially in the areas of agriculture and health while ensuring that any potential negative impacts are addressed.”

Scientists at Ghana’s largest state research institution, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), have indicated they have completed trials on GMO cowpea in the country and will soon put in the necessary request for approval from regulators to commercialize it.

The minister says the new regulation will provide the country with the necessary framework to ensure that only positive potentials of GMOs are safely harnessed in a way that will protect the environment and human health. He acknowledged that the unauthorized development, transfer, handling and use of GMOs may have adverse effect of the environment. But the regulation will seek to empower the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), which the minister described as a “competent authority,” to ensure “adequate environmental and health risk assessments are conducted prior to authorization and take steps as may be deemed necessary to protect human health and the environment.”

“This (regulation) will help ensure that organisms that may be assessed to be deleterious to human health and the country’s economy are not imported or developed for use in the country. The risk assessment and risk management regimes under the regulations will adequately address this,” he noted. “The new regulations will empower the Technical Advisory Committee established under the Act to review and where necessary request further information to establish the safety of GMOs to human health. It will also help the board of the NBA to make informed decisions to safeguard the health of Ghanaians.”

Frimpong Boateng said approval of the regulations would align Ghana with all countries that implement domestic biosafety legislation to safely harness the benefits of GMOs through approvals for their commercial use.