A national bio-safety authority, to regulate and oversee the application of modern biotechnology, is to be established soon in Ghana, the country's environment, science and technology minister, Sherry Ayitey has announced.
The country's Biosafety Law, enacted last December, called for the establishment of the authority to ensure adequate level of production in the field of safe development transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for agricultural and industrial activities.
In the ECOWAS sub region, neighbouring Burkina Faso is currently using biotechnology for farming particularly in cotton and vegetable production while Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mali and South Africa are also applying the technology. Out of the 25 countries planting biotech crops, 15 are developing countries, while 10 are industrialised.
About 30 countries have also approved the importation of biotech products for food and feed use. Egypt, Burkina Faso, Bolivia, Brazil and Australia were the first five countries to commercialise their biotech crops.
Prior to the passage of the law, Ghana was using the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Act of 1996, as a template which has provisions for the conduct of research in general, and it was extended to cover the conduct of research on Genetically Modified Organisms.
Speaking at the first Applied Research Conference in Africa (ARCA) being held in Elmina, Ghana, Ayitey said the government had a responsibility of ensuring that the application of science and technology was done within a framework that guaranteed the safety and quality of life of all.
She said arrangements were being made to set up the national bio-safety authority to carry out that mandate as soon as possible.
Passing the Act, which was before parliament for four years, was characterised by heated political exchanges – some saw it as coming to pave way for Ghana losing control of much of its agricultural production and that it was passed with the encouragement of outside influences.
Its passage means international agribusiness organisations may be able to sell genetically-modified seeds for crop cultivation in Ghana. They may also be able to sell food crops harvested from genetically-modified plants, for consumption in Ghana.
GM foods or biotech foods are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques where an organism is exposed to radiation or chemicals to create a non-specific but stable change.
Commercially, sale of GM foods began in 1994, when Calgene first marketed its Flavr Savr delayed ripening tomato. Typically, GM foods are transgenic plant products: soybean, corn, canola, rice and cotton seed oil. GM livestock have also been experimentally developed, although as of July 2010 none are currently on the market.
Critics' objections to GM foods are on grounds of safety issues, ecological and economic concerns.