Science should make the point on GMOs and not scaremongers

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One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Jonathan Swift, who said, “Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.”

As scientists and researchers, we always rise to the occasion by designing solutions that meet our pressing needs. But sadly we don’t always see the positive impact of our works because of the inconsistent and shifting positions of our populist politicians on national policy.

So has been our politicians' stance on the matter regarding the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Ghana.

Our politicians continue to evade the real issues warranting the need for the adoption of GMOs into our agriculture, and in doing so, inadvertently pander to the irrational and absurd demands of the anti-science scaremongers.

Although it is important that in our democracy, the views and contributions of others in shaping our national policies be respected, it is equally imperative we recognize that not all proffered opinions are in the best interest of the nation.

The mere expression of skepticism and the attempted demonization of GMOs by opponents should not be logical grounds for our politicians’ inaction in bringing the debate to finality. 

Intellectual discourse

This article is not an attempt to silence dissenting views or opponents of GMOs, but a call for an intellectual discourse where claims made by both sides are substantiated by irrefutable scientific evidence.

For instance, when opponents make unverified and unsubstantiated claims that GMOs cause cancer, we should demand that they produce an incontestable empirical data to back up their claims. We should let science make the point to drive the debate but not sentiments, lies, and fear of the unknown.

Not so long ago, we read of the decimation of the corn fields by army worms in some African countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia. The situation was desperately dire to the extent that the Zambian Air Force was called in to help contain the invasion of these voracious and deleterious insect pests by aerial spraying of pesticides (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38452198).

This panic response was entirely avoidable if these nations had adopted Bt corn (a genetically-modified corn developed to innately produce a toxic protein that is selectively fatal to armyworms and other pestiferous lepidopteran insects).

We may not have army worm’s invasion in Ghana presently, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed. We should not wait to go through the bitter experience of these sister nations before we do what is right for ourselves.

Our current injudicious posture on GMOs is akin to a police officer who is aware of the risks associated with his job but refuses to wear a bullet-proof vest when provided with one, only to end up fatally harmed by gun shots.

The notion put forward by opponents and skeptics that we do not need GMOs now in Ghana is a fallacy. We must always remember and understand that agriculture is a risky venture due to the erratic and inimical behavior of mother nature sometimes.  

This inherent risk could be mitigated by infusing existing safe technologies into our national agricultural policy, so as to cushion our food and fiber supply against such needless losses.

My outspoken support for GMOs is not based on existing GMOs per se, but rather on the versatility of the technology that is used to produce them. We can show a remarkable resilience in the face of these natural threats by playing smart through the application of this technology to develop products that suit our national needs.

 In truth, adopting GMOs is no panacea to our intractable food insecurity, but their acceptance and integration into our agriculture would significantly improve our chances of safeguarding our fragile national food security against unpredictable threats from invasive pests and changing weather patterns.

To this end, we urge our politicians to desist from their seemingly incorrigible habit of evasiveness on matters of national importance such as this.

They should proceed to pass all the necessary bills required for the safe deployment and development of agricultural biotechnology in Ghana.

*The author is currently a Ph.D. Candidate studying Plant Science at the South Dakota State University, Brookings, USA. He is also a faculty member of Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, KNUST, Kumasi. He can be reached via email alexander.kena@sdstate.edu