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12.01.2006 General News

Global status of biotech and GM crops launched

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Accra, Jan. 12, GNA - Ghana on Thursday joined the world to launch the Global Status of commercialised Biotech and Genetically Modified (GM) Crops report for 2005.

The report released on January 11 by the US-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) saw an 11 per cent increase in such crops compared to 2004. It said approved biotech crops grew from 200 million hectares in 2004 to 222 million hectares last year.

This was made known at a press briefing organized by Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS) on behalf of ISAAA in Accra. The Report was also to mark the 10th year of commercialisation of new biotech crops throughout the world.

Dr. Clive James, founder and chairman, Board of Directors of ISAAA, who wrote the Report, said a historic milestone was reached in 2005 when 21 counties grew biotech crops as against 17 in 2004. "There is cause for cautious optimism that the stellar growth in biotech crops, witnessed in the first decade of commercialisation (1996-2005), will continue and probably be surpassed in the second decade of 2006-2015."

The report noted that the United States followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China continued to be the principal adopters of biotech crops globally with 49.8 million hectares planted in the US of which 20 per cent were stacked products containing two or three genes with the first triple gene products making its debut in maize in the US in 2005.

Professor Walter Alhassan, PBS Coordinator for West and Central Africa, said though Ghana in some way had accepted biotechnology there was the need for capacity building that will enable Ghanaian farmers to develop and keep their own GM seeds.

He explained that Ghanaian maize like "Mama Ba", "Dada Ba" and "Akom Asa", could be turned into GM maize and their seeds could still be replanted because they were open pollinated crops. "This will allay the fears of farmers being dependent on the industrialised nations and (foreign) companies like Monsanto for seeds every season."

He stressed the need to expedite the passage of the Biosafety framework, which was currently before cabinet. Ghana had been a signatory to the Catagena Protocol on Biosafety since May 2003 and there was the need to have the law in place to work with, he said.

Prof. Alhassan said countries in West Africa who were in favour of biotechnology had no biosafety laws to operate within. "It is only Burkina Faso which has a biosafety decree with which they are doing a three-year field testing of Bt Cotton. Mali's biosafety decree is pending presidential assent and ministerial directives". Professor Kwame Offei of the Biotechnology Centre of the College of Consumer Agricultural sciences, University of Ghana, said all the controversial issues surrounding GM crops had no scientific proof adding that they rather had benefits that would address our agricultural and poverty problems.

Mr Alex Owusu-Biney of the Biosafety and Nuclear Agricultural Research Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission said the framework had taken into consideration all the possible public concerns like possible health risks and violation of natural organisms.