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05.02.2006 General News

MPs train in Biotechnology


Swedru (C/R), Feb. 5, GNA - A two-day training workshop has been organised in Swedru for four select committees of Parliament to enhance the debate on Ghana's bio-safety bill yet to be placed before Parliament for passage.

The bill addresses key elements such as government policy on bio-safety, an administrative system, a decision-making system, mechanisms for public participation and systems for 'follow-ups'. The workshop, organised by Programme for Bio-safety Systems (PBS), was also to give committee members on health, environment and science, trade and industry and food and agriculture an insight into biotechnology, its benefits and to help demystify biotechnology. PBS is a global initiative instituted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to help developing countries to build the needed capacity for policy formulation, legislation and implementation on issues on bio-safety

The parliamentarians were taken through the introduction to biotechnology, National Bio-safety Framework for Ghana, bio-safety laws, policies, international obligations related to bio-safety, genetically modified crop plants, developing biotech crops in Ghana and the economic impacts of biotechnology crops on developing countries. Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan, PBS Co-ordinator for West and Central Africa, said biotechnology was a powerful tool that complemented traditional practices for the manufacture of products or services in the areas of agriculture, health, industry and the environment. He said the technology had been successful in some areas but the biggest challenge as at now had been the use of the technology in agriculture to solve intractable problems of pests and diseases, declining soil fertility and to enhance nutrient content of food crops. "Where in the combat of these constraints, hereditary materials (genes) can be moved across widely unrelated species of organisms to produce new living organisms, there is the concern that the new products might not be safe posing hazards to the environment and human health". He noted that the concerns over the perceived risks had been at the centre of controversy over the use of the technology adding, "this training is therefore designed to assist you gain an insight into biotechnology and its safe use to enable you to take decisions on its use on an informed basis devoid of emotion."

Mr Alex Owusu-Biney, Coordinator of the National Bio-safety Committee (NBC), who introduced the MPs to the contents of the bio-safety framework, said the outline was prepared to put in place a system that would ensure safe development, transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) and their products guided by the precautionary principle of the protocol and also focus on the movement of LMOs and their products in the country or trans-boundary movements. He called for continuous capacity building through biotechnology projects and bio-safety research.

"Continuous public engagement and awareness, making use of the capacity building initiatives, training in risk assessment and risk management of reviewers, regulatory agencies should be enhanced." Mr George Sarpong, a law lecturer at the University of Ghana and also a legal consultant to the NBC assured the MPs that all the international norms and national obligations to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs resulting from biotechnology had been taken care of.

Participants during question time expressed their fear and concern of the technology being harmful to human health and the possibility of Ghana being dependent on the multi national companies like Monsanto always for seeds but the research scientists allayed their fears that such products would be subjected to series of tests to ensure their safety before putting them on the market for public consumption and that Ghana could also developed its own seeds genetically.

The MPs after the training visited the laboratories of Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Kwabenya and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research where biotechnology researches had been conducted to help in demystifying the subject of biotechnology and to help in the debate in Parliament on the bill.