By Sarah Ogochukwu Iweajunwa
There is now near unanimous consensus among scientists that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are safe to eat. Over a 100 Nobel Laureates, the American Academy of Science, the Nigerian Academy of Science, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association and World Health Organization have all said that GMOs are fine for consumption.
Though the discrepancy between the opinion of scientists and the general public on the safety of GMOs still exists, the media mainly fosters this but it is one of the hallmarks of any emerging technology.
Journalists who propagate this fear equally have deficit of candid information and knowledge of rigorous processes that result in GMOs.
The fact is some people will remain skeptical about this technology since they don’t have sufficient knowledge of Genetically Modified Organisms. It may seem unnatural and there’s a psychological inclination to desire naturalness especially in food and to eschew some forms of novelty in food. For instance, pasteurization in milk was strange to people and no one knew what to think about it but today it’s widely accepted and viewed as improving the safety of milk. In fact, the first biotech crops hit market in the late ‘90s and since then people have been consuming them without any health danger or death being ascribed to it.
On the flip side, there is no technology without possible side effects. The fact that people die of car accidents does not mean people should stop the use of cars; it only stresses the need for safety precautions. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages and these potential side effects can be reduced to the barest minimum when the technology is used safely. It was an innovation to ease movement and it has become vital tool to society today despite its fatal side effect.
It is evident that governments of nations have seen the potentials of this technology in solving certain humanitarian crisis facing our modern society; hence their judicious efforts in putting in place mechanisms that can guarantee safe practice of modern biotechnology (GMOs). It has become indispensable to economic advancement in our contemporary society and there is a need to exploit the advantages of this science to tackle the many challenges in the society especially hunger, clothing and medicine.
It is indisputable that the world population is fast growing. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change have resulted in poor agricultural yields leading to food inadequacy. Modern biotechnology has the potential to alleviate these challenges. It fosters food sufficiency, creates jobs for people and provides enriched food for the malnourished populace as we have the unrelenting problem of malnutrition in Africa. 11.3 per cent of the global population is hungry and there is a need to feed them.
No wonder, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology at a recent world conference stated that the release of Transgenic Hybrid Cotton Varieties (GMOs) into the Nigerian Seed Market will cause a 24 per cent increase in cotton yield per hectare through reduced pest damages and a 50 percent gain in cotton profit among smallholders as well as revamp the Nigerian textile industry.
He reiterated that there is no scientific proof of any harm from GMOs and urged critics of the technology to always work with facts and not scare Nigerians with lies.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, at the same World Press Conference said, for Nigeria to make the needed progress among the comity of nations, there should be a synergy among research institutes, the industry and universities.
Ogbeh stated that Nigeria couldn’t be left behind. He added that importation of everything from toothpicks to fruit juices, pencils to erasers, all of these has really created problems for the country adding that the release of the genetically modified (Bt. Cotton) variety cheers his heart.
The mass media have a pivotal role to play to allay and eradicate this unfounded fear that GMOs are unsafe to human health and environment. GMOs have come to improve our food chain. Science journalists should brace up to convey facts and resist any form of influence to report distorted facts that could exacerbate the already existing fears about the technology. The messages by the media are powerful and they have the power to change people’s perceptions. This fear is more endemic in the developing countries that need ways to feed their mounting population.
Genetically Modified Organisms are harmless as there has never been proof of harm to humans or animals associated with them. Journalists who report GMOs should get facts from scientists and appropriate authorities to avoid the dissemination misinformation that could present GMOs as harmful to human health and environment.
The introduction of GMOs in the health sector has never been an issue. All vaccines and insulin in use today are products of genetic modification (GM) and people have been using them without any harm. The question to ask the media is what makes them think it will be unsafe in agriculture when it is safe in health?
Sarah Ogochukwu Iweajunwa is a Senior Scientific Officer, National Biotechnology Development Agency(NABDA), Abuja