Environment Ministry defends Ghana GMO law

The Ministry of Environment Science and Technology (MEST) has expressed satisfaction about the passage of the Biosafety Bill into law, which received Presidential assent on December 31, 2011.

The Biosafety ACT, 2011 (ACT 831) seeks to establish a legal framework to provide the machinery for regulating biotechnology and Biosafety in Ghana.

In a statement to the Ghana News Agency in Accra on Wednesday, MEST explained that the Biosafety Act is the first attempt to have a clear-cut policy on regulation of biotechnology.

The Act also gives credence to the National Science and Technology Policy (2000), which mandates the use of modern biotechnology as a tool for enhanced agricultural, health, environmental and industrial productivity.

The statement said the development of the National Biosafety Framework which was a country and multi-stakeholder driven seeks to evolve a management system for the sound and environmentally safe management of biotechnology practices in Ghana.

It comprises legal, technical, administrative and information systems put in place to address safety in the field of modern biotechnology, according to the statement sections 1 to 5 of the Act addresses the scope, objectives and the establishment of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA).

The administrative matters concerning the National Biosafety Authority are dealt with in sections 6 to 10.

The MEST statement noted that in fulfilling the obligations of the National Competent Authority; the National Biosafety Authority is tasked to develop a genetically modified organisms detection laboratory or referral laboratory to support national capacity.

NBA is also to assist on issues of validation and development of standard methodologies for monitoring, enforcement and setting of deputes.

“Assistance will also be needed to equip the existing regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drugs Board, the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service, to meet the challenges in the handling of genetically modified organisms,” the statement stated.

The MEST statement said the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission is providing offices space for NBA for immediate take-off.

The release noted that information gathered through the survey reports was being organized into a national database on biosafety and will eventually be part of the National Biosafety Clearing House to assist with information dissemination and capacity building activities in modern biotechnology in the country.

The database included Experts directory, Institutional directory, Equipment database, Laws and regulations. Other relevant information will be added at a later date as it becomes available.

“Biotechnology is an application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives, to make or modify products or processes for a specific use. It is not alien to us in Ghana.

“It has been in existence and has been in use for a very long time. The fermentation processes used in the local preparation of certain foods and beverages are indeed biotechnological applications. Kenkey production and pito brewing are typical examples of indigenous industries that employ biotechnology,” the statement explained.

According to MEST, modern biotechnology, however, uses certain techniques to change the initial basic character of the original substance. In that sense, modern biotechnology may be said to be relatively young in Ghana. Its application is rather limited.

The statement explained that traditional biotechnology was actively used in dealing with the propagation of forest trees, horticultural products and medicinal plants, adding, tissue culture, for example, was used extensively in the production of improved varieties of root tubers, especially cassava, plantains and pineapples.

Other on-going applications of first and second generation biotechnology included enzyme-based activities, such as the development of starter cultures, biofertilizer and non-recombinant vaccines.

It said although modern, third generation biotechnology has been recognized as an important tool for seeking solutions to some of the country’s agricultural and health related problems.

According to the statement a few research institutes and universities, including the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI), the Crop Research Institute, the Cocoa Research Institute and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) are in a position to employ modern biotechnology techniques.

“Currently, there is no evidence that any of these institutes or the universities has developed genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or living modified organisms (LMOs), used interchangeably in our context, although they have the capacity and the capability to do so,” the statement noted.

With the Act now in force, the Ministry of Science and Environment is taking very active steps for the appointment of the members of the governing body of the Authority.

Ghana on May 30, 2003 ratified the Cartagena Protocol joining other countries to receive assistance from the United Nations Environmental Programme and the Global Environment Facility UNEP/GEF Project on Biosafety and to develop its own National Biosafety Framework (NBF).

Source: GNA

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