Tuesday, April 23, 2024

African scientists debunk myths on GM foods

The political economy of agricultural biotechnology came under discussion at the just ended conference on animal agriculture as scientists sought solutions to mitigate present challenges.

The issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) arose from rising anti-GMOs driven by, among others, dissident scientists who are influencing governments to treat the bio-technoloy as bad science.

GMOs are defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as organisms such as plants, animals or microorganisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.

The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species. Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods.

One scientist argued that the GM course, driven by an emerging Anti-GM Movement – a movement against genetically modified foods – is misleading as it is not based on science. He said the GM discourse is not just about crops but livestock as well.

“Anti- GM movement spreads fear mongering, overgeneralization and misguiding conclusions. Political leaders only respond to those challenges that can be translated into votes and fail to listen to scientists,” argued Professor Edward Rege during the 8th All-Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture held in Gaborone.

He regretted that governments refuse to listen to real science but go with scientific dissidents.

For instance, he said there are no recorded deaths worldwide as having been caused by genetically modified foods or diseases associated with the biotech while some 278 million Africans remain undernourished due to misplaced policies.

Professor Rege said a study carried out in 2022 showed that 284 technical and scientific institutions recognize GM.

The development of genetically-modified foods has given rise to much widespread and heated debate on the possible consequences of this new technology.

Scientists went all the way to demonstrate that challenges afflicting animal agriculture in Africa are present in developed nations. One scientist said the Danish Government closed down the entire mink industry overnight in 2020-21. Roughly 17 million minks were culled overnight, shutting the door on an entire animal industry at an estimated cost of 3 billion USD.

“Right now, the Dutch government is planning to reduce livestock numbers by a third to cut ammonia levels by buying out productive farmers at an estimated cost of 25 billion Euros. One can rightfully wonder where your next helping of Gouda cheese might come from. As Animal Scientists, we are acutely aware of our obligation to supply the consumer with healthy, nutritious and affordable foods that were also produced in an ethical and environmentally sustainable manner,” said Professor Schalk Cloete – the vice president of the South African Society of Animal Science.

Dr. Sara Ossiya – AU IBAR representative – said while 24 percent of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) is contributed by livestock, spending on the sector in Africa is a paltry 2 percent. She blamed this on the lack of institutional capacity and mechanisms. She said meat and milk are luxury foods in Africa saying this should not be the case.

Professor Taddel Dessie – President of the All African Society of Animal Production (AASAP) said it is not an insurmountable task to overcome the challenges faced by the agricultural sector on the continent which exercebated by climate change.

”We have to agree to think differently. We have to change the way we think and push harder,” said Professor Dessie.

The conference attracted close to three hundred scientists across Africa, farmers and people in the agro-business sector.

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