More than 18 months ago, the Africa Centre for Biosafety (ACB) warned that "the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is at the forefront of a US campaign to introduce genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the developing world, is funding various initiatives aimed at biosafety regulation and decision-making in Africa."
Now USAID has helped Ghana devise biosafety legislation that, in the words of Mariam Mayet of the ACB, "provides an open invitation for people to plant GMOs illegally because the Board will step in and legalise such releases by either conducting a risk assessment or imposing risk management measures!"
USAID - taking the "safety" out of "biosafety".
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The Ghanaian government appears to be suffering from an internal conflict on the issue of GMOs and Biosafety. Agriculture Minister Mr Ernest Debra was reported in July as saying that Ghana would reject all GM food imports, and has commented on the importance of applying the Precautionary Principle on the issue of GMOs.
However, Ghana's National Biosafety Framework was launched by the pro-GM Minister for Environment and Science Ms Christine Churcher, who lobbied the ECOWAS meeting in June, in favour of harmonized regulations to allow GMOs in the sub-region.
Although there has been public talk of applying the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety in Ghana's framework, African Biosafety experts have, however, sounded a note of caution. The framework may not actually be as rigorous as its proponents might claim. It appears that instead of keeping to the Precautionary Principle and the minimum standards of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, or incorporating the Africa Model Law, Ghana's Biosafety Act is more of a mechanism to approve GM plantings instead of a means to protect and monitor the health of Ghana's citizens.
The confusion is compounded by Mr Debra's later contradictory statement that he would welcome GMOs.
The tone of the Act is probably explained by the influence of USAID through the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) as they work to "capacity build" countries such as Ghana in their drafting of Biosafety legislation USAID has clearly stated their intent to push GMOs across Africa, so it is no surprise that this so-called "capacity building in Biosafety" is being interpreted as "capacity building in Biotechnology". The "safety" in "Biosafety" has been conveniently sidelined.
1. Analysis of Ghana's Biosafety Bill
Africa Centre for Biosafety. August 2005
2. Ghana gets Bio-safety Framework
Article from Ghana News Agency. Date: 16 July 2005
3. Ghana Stops Importation of GM Foods
Article from the Ghanaian Chronicle. Date: 28 July 2005
4. Ghana strongly favours GM Crops
Article from Ghana News Agency. Date: 18 August 2005 http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=88344
5. ECOWAS Biotechnology Conference in Bamako
Article from Ghana News Agency. Date: 25 June 2005
Linda Asante Agyei
1. Analysis of Ghana's Biosafety Bill
Africa Centre for Biosafety. August 2005
INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY
More than 18 months ago, we warned that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is at the forefront of a US campaign to introduce genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the developing world, is funding various initiatives aimed at biosafety regulation and decision-making in Africa.[i]
We pointed out that one such example may well be the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), a consortium of groups under the direction of IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) involved in USAID biotechnology policy work. PBS provides funding and biosafety capacity building, including assistance in drafting biosafety laws to developing countries.[ii]
Ghana is part of a three-year PBS programme. According to Professor Walter Alhassan, PBS Co-ordinator of West and Central Africa, the PBS project is aimed at promoting the judicious use of modern biotechnology in Ghana in order to increase agricultural productivity, leading to marketing opportunities and higher rural incomes.[iii]
On the 12 July 2005, Ms Christine Churcher, Minister of Environment and Science (MES) launched Ghana's National Biosafety Framework (NBF), including its Biosafety Bill. She pointed out that Ghana is the first country in Africa to develop a NBF under the UNEF/GEF's Biosafety Capacity Building Project, which proves Ghana’s ability to ensure sustained use of modern biotechnology products and processes. [iv]
We have been furnished with the latest version of Ghana's Biosafety Bill by officials within the Ghanaian government, and submit these comments in good faith, and in the interests of protecting human health, the environment and African society from the risks posed by GMOs. We fully recognise and respectfully acknowledge the sovereign rights of the government of Ghana, acting with and on behalf of its citizens, to make its own choices. We refer to the Biosafety Bill as "Biosafety Act" for ease of reference.
After having analysed the Biosafety Act, we make the following findings, with deep regret:
1. The Biosafety Act has utterly failed to take the African Union’s Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology into account;
2. The Biosafety Act has principally been drafted to deal with the permitting of GMOs for planting in Ghana, more particularly field trials. The impacts of GMOs on human health are not a concern of the Biosafety Act, an approach not consistent with the Biosafety Protocol, to which Ghana is a Party. Indeed, it is astonishing that very attempt has been made to ensure that human health is excluded from the biosafety enquiry;
3 The Biosafety Act is silent on the regulation of GMOs imported for direct use as food (aid), feed and processing, notwithstanding that these GMOS constitute the bulk of the trade/aid;
4 Several provisions are reminiscent of the Swaziland Biosafety Bill apparently drafted by a consultant based in New York, which imply similar influences, with the UNEP/GEF Biosafety Capacity Building Project being a good contender. These include provisions dealing with confidential information that will severely curtail the public’s right to information; peculiar language with respect to risk assessment that is not consistent with biosafety parlance; and provisions dealing with exemptions that are vague in law and science and confers too much unfettered decision-making powers;
5 Public participation in decision-making is not provided for at all. Public input by way of a notice and comment procedure is possible, but only with respect to applications for environmental releases;
6 Decision-making is not to be based on the precautionary principle. The drafters have not even seen fit to lift the precautionary principle from Article 10(6) of the Biosafety Protocol;
7 The provisions dealing with unintentional and unauthorised releases into the environment run the risk of rendering the entire piece of legislation meaningless because it provides an open invitation for people to plant GMOs illegally because the Board will step in and legalise such releases by either conducting a risk assessment or imposing risk management measures!; and
8 No specially tailored liability and redress provisions have been crafted.
[i] M Mayet "Africa: the new frontier for the GE Industry" Third World Resurgence, Issue No.159-160. Feb 2004 www.biosafetyafrica.net/briefing_papers.htm <http://www.biosafetyafrica.net/briefing_papers.htm> .
[ii] See further, Devlin Kuyek "USAID: Making the world hungry for GM crops" GRAIN Briefing 2005 www.grain.org.go.usaid <http://www.grain.org.go.usaid/>
[iii] Expert urges Ghana to harness biotechnology, Ghana News Agency, 29 June 2005. www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/News/Archive/artickel.php?ID=84759
[iv] Ghana gets Biosafety Framework www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=188180