GMO seed technology here to stay, say scientists
Posted Friday, November 23 2012 at 19:59
- East African countries are yet to fully embrace biotechnology products, mainly genetically modified organisms (GMO), and have been sending mixed signals on whether to incorporate them as part of the regions’ food security efforts.
Biotechnology and products so derived are here to stay despite the polarised debates on the pros and cons of the modern science, seed scientists have said.
Speaking at a meeting in Nairobi, they said the technology has brought about new benefits for plant breeding, helping to improve agricultural production in Africa.
“The technology has brought about new crop production practices and coexistence of conventional and genetically modified food crops,” said Jitu Shah, president of African Seed Traders Association (AFSTA).
Mr Shah called on players in the seed industry to familiarise themselves with the new developments that affect production and trade in agriculture. He urged players to adopt and follow the new regulations and also to help create public awareness among farmers.
East African countries are yet to fully embrace biotechnology products, mainly genetically modified organisms (GMO), and have been sending mixed signals on whether to incorporate them as part of the regions’ food security efforts.
Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority chairperson, Prof Miriam Kinyua, however said contrary to views by activists, GM foods are safe for consumption, having gone through environmental and human health risk assessments.
“The foods have no effects on human health in countries where they have been approved,” said Prof Kinyua.
She added that they are recommended internationally by the Food and Agricultural Organisation and World Health Organisation.
She called on non-scientists to stop politicising science by spreading malicious rumours about non-existent dangers as such utterances demoralise researchers.
Safe as other technology
“Genetic engineering technology has been demonstrated to be as safe as any other technology and therefore it is wrong for misinformed people to mislead the unsuspecting population,” Prof Kinyua noted.
Dr Wynand Van der Walt, a biotechnology expert from South Africa, said the science has provided resistance to insects and pathogens and tolerance to herbicides, ensuring increased food production.
The technology is credited with reducing tillage, crop rotation and pesticide use.
Dr Walt however blamed the Cartagena Protocol for complicating the international trade in seeds and commodity food crops. He warned that labelling of GM foods would further complicate the trade.
Syngenta head of agriculture and partnership Ian Barke said access to quality seed of improved varieties is key to modernisation of small-holder agriculture.
Dr Joseph Ahenda of the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) said the industry is faced with an inadequate supply of basic seed varieties, and lack of variety maintenance, causing instability in traits.