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Genetically Modified Organisms controversy

GMO controversy, resurgence of illegal mining played up in Ghana media - A raging controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and the resurgence of illegal mining, called “galamsey” in Ghana, were some of the main stories covered by the media this week.

“Farmers demonstrate against GMOs” was the headline of the state-owned Graphic on a demonstration in Accra on Tuesday warning the legislature and executive not to approve the introduction of GMOs in Ghana.

The march was also to ask Parliament to reject the Plant Breeders’ Bill whose purpose is said to establish a legal framework to protect the rights of breeders of new varieties of plants or plant groupings and to promote the breeding of new varieties of plants aimed at improving the quantity, quality and cost of food, fuel, fibre and raw materials for industry.

It is the belief of proponents of the bill that it would promote the growth of the seed industry and safeguard the lawful right and interest of plant breeders.

The Graphic said the demonstrators chanted “No GMO” and “Away with GMO”.

They carried placards with weird photos of GMOs, some of which read: “Say no to Man Satan”, “Farmers’ rights come first”, “No to the Plant Breeders’ Bill”, “Ban GMOs”, “GMOs will make Ghanaian farmers poor” and “GMO is poison, beware”.

A GMO is the result of a laboratory process of taking and modifying the genes of crops in an attempt to obtain a desired characteristic for higher production yield, as well as increased resistance against pests, diseases and other environmental conditions.

The Chairperson of the Coalition for Farmers’ Rights and Advocacy against GMOs, Ms Samia Yaaba Nkrumah, said there was the need for Ghanaians to rise against the imposition of the Plant Breeders’ Bill, whose passage would allow the introduction of GMO foods into the country.

Ms Nkrumah stated that the imposition of the bill had far-reaching social, economic and political consequences on Ghanaians and the entire African continent.

She explained that the passage of the bill would disable Ghanaians from having total control over their agricultural and food commodities.

Ms Nkrumah called on parliamentarians to help educate Ghanaians on the bill before attempting to pass it into law, adding, “It is full of legal jargon that cannot be understood by the ordinary Ghanaian”.

The headline of another story in the newspaper on GMOs read, “Graphic forwards petition to Parliament on behalf of journalists.” The story said the Graphic Communications Group Limited had forwarded a resolution by 40 journalists, who attended a day’s seminar on GMOs, to Parliament on the need to delay the passage of the Plant Breeders Bill.

They appealed to the parliamentarians not to rush the debate on the bill, expressing their belief that “further engagement of all stakeholders will enhance the outcome of the debate in the House and the final legislation will address the fears and anxiety of all Ghanaians”.

The journalists said many Ghanaians were uncertain about the relationship between the passage of the bill and the introduction of GMOs in the country.

The headline of the state-owned Ghanaian Times on the demonstration was, “Group protests against GMO foods.”

The story said a civil society group, the Ghana Coalition of Farmers’ Rights against Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Foods, on Tuesday held a peaceful demonstration in Accra to oppose the passage of the Plant Breeders Bill, which currently is before Parliament.

Sporting red T-shirts and armbands, the demonstrators carried placards some of which read, “GMO will make Ghanaian farmers poor,” “GMO not good for our health” and “Parliamentarians must know better.”

The group urged MPs to oppose the bill, which was at the consideration stage.

The Plant Breeders Bill has attracted serious concerns by some civil society groups about its health risk, fears of infertility, immune problems and danger of causing changes in major organs.

Supporters of the bill argue that the genetic modification of foods increased food production and GMOs offered a valuable tool for responding to the serious problem of malnutrition facing many people around the world.

The Graphic had another story with the headline “Speaker receives petitions on GMOs.”

It said the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Edward Doe Adjaho, had acknowledged receipt of a number of petitions relating to GMOs and the Plant Breeders Bill and said he would seek the advice of the leadership of the House on which course to take on the issue.

He said he had also taken note of the fact that the Biosafety Act (Act 831) which was enacted in 2011 made provision for the establishment of a regulatory body, that is, the National Biosafety Authority, to deal with most of the concerns raised in the petitions on GMOs.

An Accra-based radio station, Joy FM, in a story on its website with the headline “National Bio-safety Committee member downplays anti-GMO concerns,” said Professor Walter Alhassan Sundown had downplayed concerns raised by the Coalition for Farmers Rights over GMO foods.

He noted that GMO products were as good as non-GMO products, adding that the former had been sent through series of thorough scrutiny to ensure they were safe for both humans and animals.

“Security team swoops on ‘galamsey’ operators in River Pra,” was the headline of the Graphic on the resurgence of the activities of illegal miners that were destroying the environment, polluting water bodies and destroying cocoa trees, the main export of Ghana.

It said security officers last Saturday swooped on illegal gold miners who had returned to the Pra River in the Ashanti region to continue their illicit gold mining activities after national security officers clamped down on them last year.

It said seven huge floating “galamsey” platforms mounted in the middle and along the banks of the river were destroyed by the security team.

The Ghanaian Times carried a story that said the security task force rescued a fleeing Chinese illegal miner from drowning after he jumped into an abandoned 'galamsey' pit to escape arrest.

Yuan Chen and two other colleagues were operating at an illegal mining site in the Ashanti region.

He took to his heels on seeing members of the task force and plunged into a waterlogged pit.

Pana 02/02/2014