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Timely and accurate information said to be key in understanding GMOs

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MaizeProfessor Kwabena Mante Bossompem, Deputy Director of the Noguchi Memorial Institute, University of Ghana, has said that timely and accurate information was vital in ensuring decisions regarding the wider acceptance of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Africa.

He explained that there was a general perception that modern biotechnology was a sophisticated advanced science hidden from the public and effective communication was necessary to address some of these misconceptions.

Biotechnology and GMOs have a role to play in sustainable socio-economic growth in Africa and effective communication is needed for public awareness, education and their participation”, he added.

Prof. Bossompem said this when he made a presentation on “Communicating with the Pubic: Public Awareness, Education and Participation” at a three-day Biosafety training on Risk Communication for GMOs organised in Aburi.

The training was organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in collaboration with the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the National Biosafety Authority.

It was attended by 30 participants from Ghana and Nigeria made of communicators with experience in the formulation of biosafety policies and biosafety regulatory decision making, regulatory officials and researchers involved in GMO field trials.

The training focused on the key elements of effective communication for GMOs, how to address common misconceptions and controversies about GMOs, how to effectively engage the public in awareness creation, education and public participation as well as how to enhance communication among stakeholders.

Prof. Bossompem noted that effective communication would educate the public on the expansion of producer choice, inspire consumer confidence, facilitate trade and promote socio-economic development.

He stressed that the establishment of Biosafety Regulation in a country does not mean that GMOs have not been accepted, adding, “Biosafety is a regulatory system for modern biotechnology and there is the need to regulate deliberate import and export of GMO products into a country”.

He called on participants to increase community awareness of the technology and address specific misconceptions and concerns of the public.

Mr Dennis N. Obonyo Programme Officer, Bioafety Unit of ICGEB said though widespread of commercialization of GMOs began more than a decade ago, concerns regarding their potential risks still persisted and to ensure that decisions made on GMOs have wider acceptance, there was the need to provide timely and accurate information.

He noted that risk communication ensures stakeholders, including governments, researchers, industry and public were well informed and engaged in regulatory process, adding, “skills, knowledge, and capacity to communicate effectively about GMO regulation need to be enhanced for decision making.

Prof. Paul Keese, Science Advisor of the office of the Gene Technology Regulator, Australia said risk communication was not a science rocket but served as glue that holds together risk analysis and also build trust, transparency.

He called on communicators be circumspect whenever communicating with the public on GMOs and always ensure that the public were always engaged in decision making process, which he described as very key.

Mr Obonyo explained that ICGEB has partnered the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to enhance the ability of regulatory authorities in the Sub-Saharan Africa to regulate the development and commercialisation of the agri-biotechnology products, by forming a resource pool of African expertise through which regulatory systems could be manned effectively and sustainably.

He reiterated ICGEB’s support to provide greater access to current scientific and technical information, provide capacity building and help address locally identified needs in GMO regulatory processes.

Source: GNA

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