GMO Cotton Approved for Plantations

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has approved the cultivation of Genetically Modified Cotton in Ethiopia.

Undergoing two seasons (years) of confined field trials, the genetically modified cotton – best known as BT-Cotton – has finally secured the approval from the Ministry for “environmental release” or for the cultivation of the biotechnologically engineered cotton for commercial purposes.

Read more

Give GMO a chance to boost food security: women scientists

Women scientists are calling for the adoption of biotechnology to boost food security in the country.
Under the umbrella of Women for Biosciences Network, Dr Felister Makini, the deputy director general for crop research at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) said that women scientists can play a bigger role in helping female farmers in rural areas understand the technologies and exploit them for food security.

Read more

Optimism high as Uganda’s biotech bill gets a “second chance”

Some Ugandan officials are optimistic that the nation’s biotechnology biosafety bill will soon pass, saying that President Museveni’s concerns have been addressed.“The president expressed concern on seven out of 44 clauses in the biosafety bill,” noted Kafeero Sekitoleko, chairman of Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee. “These have since been addressed and we’re ready to report back (to Parliament). I want to leave Uganda with a biosafety law by end of my term in May (2018).”After years of wrangling, Parliament passed the bill in October 2017. But President Museveni referred it to back to lawmakers in December, citing various concerns.

Other officials also sought to allay fears that the country may never have a biosafety law.

“The president’s issues with the biosafety bill have been addressed. So the bill will pass,” reiterated Christopher Kibazanga, state Minister for Agriculture.

His and other supportive voices were heard at the 3rd Biennial National Agricultural Biosciences Conference (NABIO) 2018, where Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, speaking at the official opening, assured guests that the Science and Technology Committee’s report on the bill would be tabled for debate before Parliament breaks off for the Easter holiday.

The announcement prompted jubilation from an evidently excited audience. Uganda’s pro-biotech community is now in a “fingers-crossed” mood as it eagerly awaits results from yesterday’s tabling of the report.

The two-day NABIO conference — organized by the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE), in cooperation with local and global partners in biotech and biosafety — attracted national and international scientists, policy makers, journalists, politicians, farmers and university students.

The biennial event provides a platform for dialogue among bioscience stakeholders to chart out the most strategic way to harness bioscience for national and regional economic transformation.

Almost naturally, Uganda’s biosafety law took center stage as different scientists shared updates on bioscience research and regulatory progress in different countries. The local audience, particularly farmers, expressed frustration about the protracted process of passing Uganda’s law.

“Last season alone, I lost seven acres to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD),” lamented Sarah Nabirye Kiirya, a farmer from Kinyomozi village in the Kiryandongo district in Western Uganda. “Please fast track the enactment of the biosafety law so farmers like me can access virus resistant GM cassava.”

Losses due to CBSD are estimated at $24.2 million annually.She and many other farmers also are recovering from a long drought and a fall armyworm (FAW) invasion that devastated crops countrywide in 2017.

In a bid to restore farmers’ yields, scientists at the National Agricultural Research Organization have since 2007 used genetic engineering to address viral diseases in cassava, bacterial wilt in bananas, drought and pest challenges in maize, nitrogen and water use efficiency in rice, and late blight disease in potatoes.

While Uganda has the highest number of genetically modified (GM) crops under field testing in Africa, efforts to get such products of modern agricultural technology into farmers’ fields have so far been stifled by the absence of an enabling national policy.

“It is very pernicious when everyone, especially non-scientists, claim scientific authority,” argued Amos Mandela, a Ugandan parliamentarian. He was addressing widespread misinformation circulated by anti-GMO and environmental groups, which has at least in part been responsible for the delayed passing of the biosafety law.

As the conference concluded, one overreaching sentiment remained: Is this it? Could this be the time when farmers like Sarah are finally given the opportunity to choose better performing GM crops? As it stands, they can only remain optimistic.

Written by Joshua Raymond Muhumuza in Cornell Alliance for Science. He is a research assistant with Uganda Biosciences Information Center. See original article link here.

NEMA to approve field trials for GM cotton in May

Planting of National Performance Trials (NPT) for Genetically Modified (GM) Cotton might start May once the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) gives approval.

Currently NEMA is awaiting feedback from the public which is supposed to be ready by end of April, after it issued a gazette notice for them to submit comments on an environmental impact assessment for the proposed NPT on the GM Cotton.

Speaking Thursday during an Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Nairobi, Chief Compliance Office at NEMA Margaret Njuki said they issued a gazette notice to the public to submit comments last month for the proposed NPTs at nine sites.

The nine sites proposed for the field test of GM cotton include Mwea, Katumani, Kampi ya Mawe, Bura, Perkerra, Kibos Alupe, Barwessa and Matuga.

Simon Gichuki from Kenya Agriculture and Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), said the initial plan was to start the NPTs in April to target the long rains. However, due to the delay in approval, some areas including Kampi ya Mawe, Katumani and Matuga may miss out due to erratic weather condition.

Mr. Rajeev Arora, Advisor, Textile Value-chain for Kenya and Chair Bt. Cotton Taskforce at the Ministry of Industry Trade and Cooperatives, said before planting NPTs that had been proposed to commence in April 2018 will now be conducted in six sites due to the delay.

He added that the team appointedin 2017 together with the Agriculture, Food Authority (AFA) has developed a cotton revitalization roadmap with conventional hybrid seed initiative which will then be followed by Bt Cotton.

“A total of 20 counties have been mapped out as potential areas for revitalization of cotton production with a total of 200,000 hectares,” he said.

Arora noted that sensitization programs and activities are also ongoing with support from different development partners.

The impact of Cotton revitalization, Arora said is to increase cotton production from the current 5,500 tons to 50,000 tons in the next five years.

“The plan is to initially develop cotton using hybrids and conventional seeds and by 2019 to grow Bt cotton after its commercialization which will have three times production yield compared to present conventional varieties,” Arora said, adding that total production will be done in over 200,000 hectares land in the five years.

-Written by Wangari Ndirangu in Kenya News Agency. See original article link here.

Government should invest in biotechnology related research

Ugandan media, scientists discuss opportunities and challenges for public awareness on GMOs

“Why does the public hear more of the myths and lies about genetically modified crops than the truth and facts that the scientists are so proud of?” asked Abalo Irene Otto, a freelance journalist with The Observer newspaper in Uganda. Read more

Nigeria on track to commercialize GMO cowpeas, rice, sorghum, corn and cotton

The Biosafety Bill was signed into law in 2015, putting Nigeria on the map of countries with requisite regulations for effective practice of modern agricultural biotechnology. The biosafety law allowed for the establishment of a biosafety regulatory agency, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) which has announced the nation’s readiness for the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) products. This means that Nigeria will soon begin the commercialization of staple crops which have gone through the world standard procedure of studies and observations in the field called confined field trials (CFTs). Read more

Burkina Faso’s GMO cotton mistakes won’t be repeated in Africa, stakeholders say

Stakeholders in the agricultural biotechnology sector are offering assurances that the problems that prompted Burkina Faso to temporarily halt cultivation of genetically engineered cotton won’t be repeated with GMO crops in other African countries. Read more

Addressing GMOs’ promise, problems

The debate over the promise and problems of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) has continued to rage.

GMO has become a controversial topic as its benefits for both food producers and consumers are companied by potential biomedical risks and environmental side effects. Increasing concerns from the public about GMO, particularly in the form of genetic modified (GM) foods, are aimed at the short- and long-lasting health problems that may result from this advanced biotechnology. Complex studies are being carried out around the world independently to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of GM foods.

The debates over GM foods focus mostly on uncertainties concerning the potential adverse effects of GM foods on human health and environmental safety. The anxiety among consumers can be attributed to four sources: the difficulty of the scientific community in explaining concisely to the lay public the biological techniques involved; concerns about the improper dissemination of GM foods; and the ethical principles inherent in traditional food processing; the misgivings with regards to the adequacy of evaluation of the GM foods.

Three major health risks potentially associated with GM foods are: toxicity, allergenicity and genetic hazards. These arise from three potential sources, the inserted gene and their expressed proteins per se, secondary or pleiotropic effects of the products of gene expression, and the possible disruption of natural genes in the manipulated organism.

For one thing, the unequivocal declaration that all GM crops are safe flies in the face of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) assertion that “it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.” As the WHO noted, because “different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways” it is necessary to assess them “on a case-by-case basis.”

To domesticate and address the concerns about the safety of GMOs, the Federal Government has established the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) and the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

The NBMA was established by the National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015, to provide regulatory framework to adequately safe guard human health and the environment from potential adverse effects of modern biotechnology and genetically modified organisms, while harnessing the potentials of modern biotechnology and its derivatives, for the benefit of Nigerians.

Assistant Director/Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Nigeria Chapter, Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, told The Guardian unequivocally: “The WHO has given the final verdict that ‘no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of GM foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.’”

Gidado during a courtesy visit to The Guardian, in company of the Regional Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Abuja, West Africa, Dr. Abdou Rhamane Issoufou Kollo, concluded: “Any quest to prove beyond doubt that GMOs are safe will run into the same roadblock, as nothing can be proven 100 per cent safe. More than 2,000 studies and 20 plus years of consumption by humans and animals have produced no evidence that GMOs represent an unusual health risk. Every major health and regulatory body in the world agrees. Critics are left holding out the argument that there is unknown threats lurking in the shadows of our future.”

AATF is a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates and promotes public/private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate agricultural technologies for sustainable use by smallholder farmers in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) through innovative partnerships and effective stewardship along the entire value chain.

Kollo told The Guardian: “In Africa, resistance to GMO crops is strong. Organized groups supported by Europeans’ Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) mostly cause it. These groups appear very dynamic. Excited by two recent contradictory events about GM crops in West Africa – the decision of the Government of Burkina Faso to stop growing Bt-cotton; and the decision of the Nigerian Government to authorize its cropping- the Anti-GMO proponents became hyperactive; they have been organizing concerts, radio talk shows, workshops and conferences. Their methods consist of creating confusion about GMOs and scaring the uninformed public of the supposed dangers of GM crops. Thus, mineral fertilizers, pesticides, hybrids and GMOs are often lumped together. It is appears that some of the anti-GMO proponents are organic farming crusaders who want to impose their views on the society.”

Gidado and Kollo urged the media to help in educating the public of the benefits of biotechnology to the country and Africa.

Gidado said the agency’s mandate is to ensure adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on conservation. She said that there is going to be direct and indirect employment and production of high quality materials for industries regarding the emergence of NBDA in the country.

Gidado said that modern biotechnology as a term adopted by international convention to refer to biotechnological techniques for the manipulation of genetic material and the fusion of cells beyond normal breeding barriers.

“Biotechnology will ensure sustainable use of biodiversity, taking into account risks to human health, animals, plants and environment.”

However, there has indeed been evidence of GMOs link to ill effects, and many studies published in peer-reviewed journals have detected ill effects to the animals that consumed a GM crop. For instance, a systematic review of the toxicological studies on GM foods that was published in 2009 concluded that the results of “most” of them indicate that the products “may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters the significance of which remains unknown.” It also noted that further studies were clearly needed. Another review that encompassed the additional studies that had been published up until August 2010 also provided cause for caution. It concluded that there was “equilibrium” between the research groups “suggesting” that GM crops are as safe as their non-GM counterparts and “those raising still serious concerns.”

Between 2008 and 2014 there have been eight such reviews published in standard journals, and as a whole, they provide no grounds for unequivocally proclaiming safety. As Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University, United States (U.S.), observed in a comprehensive examination that was also published in a peer-reviewed journal: “One cannot read these systematic reviews and conclude that the science on health effects of GMOs has been resolved within the scientific community.”

But Gidado said: “In the three decades since the introduction of GMO crops, there have been more than 2,000 studies evaluating health and environmental aspects of genetically engineered products. The vast majority of studies have found nothing to indicate that GM foods represent a health threat. The consensus among scientists is that gene altered crops offer no more risk than those developed through conventional breeding techniques.

“More than 275 independent science organizations from around the world have concluded that foods grown from genetically engineered seeds pose no unique health concerns.”

She said more 110 Nobel laureates issued a joint communique in June 2012, stating: “Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production.”

According to Gidado, after a two-year evaluation, in the most comprehensive evaluation of GM crops ever undertaken, the US National Academy of Sciences concluded that genetically engineered crops have not caused increases in cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney disease, autism or allergies: there are “no differences that would implicate a higher risk to human health from eating GE foods than from eating their non-GE counterparts.”

Gidado and Kollo dismissed a long-term study that yielded disturbing results. In it, a team of university researchers led by Gilles-Eric Séralini demonstrated that a GM crop approved by regulators based on a medium-term, 90-day toxicological feeding study caused significant damage to the rats’ livers and kidneys when tested over the long-term (two years).

Those results cast doubt on the entire GM food venture because no regulators require tests greater than 90 days, and several GM crops have entered the market without any toxicological testing at all.

So when the study was published in a respected journal in 2012, proponents of GM crops bitterly denounced it and demanded its retraction. But because it was a solid toxicological study, they could not attack it on that ground. So they focused on the part of the study that reported an increased rate of tumour development in the GM-fed rats, and they argued that too few animals had been used to meet the standards for a carcinogenicity study.

However, they disregarded several crucial facts:
(1) The research was not designed to meet the standards of a carcinogenicity study.
(2) It did fulfill the standards for a toxicological study.
(3) The troubling toxicological results were reliable.
(4) Tumours are supposed to be reported when detected during a toxicological study.

Nonetheless, despite the weakness of their claims, they continued to pressure the journal until, more than a year after publication — and after the addition of a former Monsanto employee to the editorial board — the study was finally retracted. But not only did the chief editor acknowledge the adequacy of the toxicological findings, the lone reason he proffered for rejecting the tumour-related findings was that they were “inconclusive,” which is not a valid reason for retraction. Furthermore, according to standard guidelines, even if there had been good grounds for retracting that part of the study, the remainder should not have been withdrawn along with it.

-Written by Chukwuma Muanya, Assistant Editor, in The Guardian.  See original article link here.

Uganda Parliament Passes Bill To Promote Use Of Genetically Modified Materials, Biotech

KAMPALA, Uganda — Several genetically modified crops that are more resilient to drought, flooding, saline or acid soils and temperature extremes resulting from climate change are already being researched in Uganda and are in advanced stages. The enactment of an enabling law, the Uganda National Biosafety Bill 2017, is intended to enhance the development of modern biotechnology.

Read more