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Ghana's Ministry of the Environment and Science issued draft biosafety legislation yesterday (16 August), intended to protect the country's citizens and environment from the potentially damaging effects of genetically modified (GM) organisms.

The implication is that the government is open to allowing GM products in the country. Yet this is in direct contrast to comments made less than a month ago by the country's food and agriculture minister.

Ernest Debrah was quoted in the media saying that the government had resolved to oppose GM food.

GM experts in Ghana say he was misquoted.

According to the 28 July issue of the Ghanaian Chronicle online, Debrah said in Accra on 23 July that "the country would reject, without hesitation, the importation of any genetically modified (GM) food, crops and materials [even though] it might solve the famine problems being experienced, especially in the Northern part." 

Speaking to SciDev.Net, Konadu Acheampong, programme and administrative officer at the Institute for Natural Resources in Africa, a branch of the United Nations University, said that Debrah's words were taken out of context.

"We are already developing GM crops in [Ghana]," he added.

Owusu Bennoah, director-general of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research agrees that the press exaggerated the story. 

Bennoah told SciDev.Net that Debrah said only that he did not "feel comfortable with GM maize" and this was in reply to the question "would you allow GM maize to enter Ghana?"

He added that the use of modern agricultural biotechnology should be promoted in Ghana to increase food production. This, he said, would improve food security and nutrition as well as raise the quality of life for rural people and increase their incomes.

Bennoah said scientists are still discussing the risks that biotechnology might present for human health and the environment. "It is our job as scientists to explain [the scientific debate] to policymakers and politicians," he said. "This is what we are doing."

A biotechnology expert at the food and agriculture ministry who did not want to be named told SciDev.Net that Ghana should not reject GM food outright. Instead, it should adopt national biosafety rules to address the potential risks associated with GM, making sure it strengthens its capacity to implement these regulations.

If the Ghanaian cabinet approves the environment ministry's biosafety legislation, it will go to parliament for ratification. The next parliamentary session begins in October.