Pressure group sues ‘lawless’ Ghana authorities over genetically modified foods

Authorities planning to commercially release crops which could be 'dangerous' to locals, suit says.

A GHANAIAN civil society group, Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG), has moved to court in Accra seeking to have the country’s National Biosafety Committee and the agriculture ministry prevented from releasing and commercialising genetically modified cowpeas and rice.

The group in its suit at the high court argues that the authorities have not complied with the provisions of the main Biosafety Act.

Ghana is one of the few African countries that have allowed the introduction of GM foods, which are governed by the policy the FSG is questioning.

Field trials of modified rice and cowpeas in the southern Ashanti province, and of cotton in three northern provinces, are underway. 

 “We are not only calling for an injunction on the commercialisation of GM rice and Bt-cowpeas but on all GM crops until the National Biosafety Authority is in place,” FSG spokesperson George Tetteh Wayo said in a statement.

The Act in question says only such an Authority can authorise the commercial release of the genetically modified foods in Ghana. 

The West African country is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which in part requires parties to promote public awareness and education regarding the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms, the statement said.

The agreement also requires parties to consult the public on decisions regarding food biosafety.

“We maintain that none of these provisions are being respected and we find the situation of lawlessness surrounding the imposition of Genetically Modified Organisms on Ghanaians most alarming as biosafety is a matter of life and death,” the group said.  

“The most fraudulent aspect of this is the fact that in spite of the flagrant infringement of the Biosafety Act, the scientists behind these dangerous experiments keep informing the public that everything is being done in accordance with the law,” it added.

The group is urging Ghanaians to take an interest in the matter and back it in prosecuting the case.

Genetic modification refers to techniques used to manipulate the genetic composition of an organism by adding specific useful genes.

These useful genes could make crops high-yielding, disease resistant or drought-resistant. 

In 2008, Burkina Faso and Egypt joined South Africa and started growing commercial biotech crops. Today, these three nations are the only ones in commercial production. 

There are less than 10 countries involved in confined field testing, including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi - while only 14 others are doing contained research.

Some activists in Ghana deem genetically manipulated foods as a health hazard and a threat to economic and food sovereignty and national security.

Questions about GM foods in Africa are ordinarily raised over the fate of the newly inserted DNA after it has been consumed by humans.

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