African agricultural scientists have given a nod to the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops, saying they are safe to eat and have the same nutritional content as others.
More than 90 scientists from the Network of African Science Academies (Nasac) called for African countries to embrace modern biotechnology to improve agricultural productivity.
Led by Nasac president Nobert Hounkonnou and Prof Ratemo Michieka, the honorary secretary of the Kenya National Academy of Sciences, they noted that the whole continent has been embroiled in debates about GM foods, with the Kenyan High Court suspending their importation and distribution.
“As Nasac, we wish to state that approved GM products are safe. Scientific authorities around the world, such as the US National Academy of Sciences, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization ... have analysed thousands of scientific studies and concluded that GM food crops do not pose any risk to people, animals or the environment,” said Prof Michieka.
“GM crops on the market today have the same nutrition and composition as non-GM crops,” he added.
Commercialised GM crops, said Prof Michieka, have a history of safe use. Since their consumption began 25 years ago, no verified health problems have been reported, he said.
Before they are released for commercial cultivation, Prof Michieka said that the GM crops have to be reviewed and approved according to national and international science protocols.
He added that the 25-year commercialisation of GM crops had demonstrated to scientists that they are more productive, and that they have increased productivity by 822 million tonnes.
“More than 70 countries have adopted biotech crops, with more than 190 million hectares of biotech crops grown globally,” said Prof Michieka.
On regulations, Prof Michieka assured Kenyans that the country is able to regulate GM research and products, through competent national biosafety agencies that assess the safety of GM products.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which Kenya is a signatory to, mandates the country to ensure that living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology are safely handled, transported and used to benefit human health.
“As we debate about GMOs, the drought situation continues to worsen in 20 of the 23 Asal (arid and semi-arid lands) counties in Kenya. The situation is replicated in most parts of Africa. ... In this regard, science academies in Africa recommend adoption and commercialisation of approved crops,” said Prof Michieka.
While calling out leaders who have politicised the GMO argument, Professor Michieka called on his fellow scientists and the media to combat widespread misinformation about GMOs in order to enhance acceptance and adoption.
“There is a need for sound political leadership that appreciates the vital place of science in addressing climatic challenges and food insecurity,” he said.
In a report titled Harnessing Modern Agricultural Biotechnology for Africa’s Economic Development, Nasac says that other African countries, including Burkina Faso and South Africa have commercialised GM crops, just like Kenya commercialised GM cotton.
Burkina Faso commercialised GM cotton in 2009 after six years of controlled field testing. In South Africa, GM cotton and GM maize have been in commercial production since 1997. The report notes that since then, the production of GM crops has steadily increased.