The GMO debate: What to consider

Published on Pambazuka News, by Mwananyanda Mbikusita Lewanika, July 24, 2014.

The debate around Genetically Modified Organisms has been characterized by lack of information and understanding of the complexities around biotechnology. Any state must undertake careful consideration about potential benefits and risks before deciding to introduce GMOs into the country … //



Proponents of genetic engineering are of the view that the technology does not pose any significant risks or even any risk at all. Some of the potential benefits often quoted are increased food production, improved human and animal health, waste treatment and management as well as microbial mineral leaching.

It has been suggested that genetic engineering can contribute to increased food production through the development of food crops and animals with desirable properties such as pest resistance, herbicide resistance, drought tolerance, salt tolerance, improved nutritional profiles and the ability to manufacture chemicals more economically.

Other cited benefits are that GMOs can contribute to improved human and animal health through the production of inexpensive pharmaceutical and veterinary products, diagnostics (in vivo and in vitro tests to detect disease and measure bodily functions), vaccines and other products to administer and deliver drugs.


Some public interest groups and even scientists have brought the potential risks of genetic engineering to light. At the fore are issues of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, food safety, fair and equitable sharing of benefit from biodiversity and intellectual property rights. Biotechnology may also have implications for the ownership of food production and distribution systems.

At the moment not much is known about GMOs to categorically predict how they will affect the environment. GMOs released to the environment could have adverse effects on the biological diversity. Ordered biological diversity is the basis of ecological stability that has already been seriously eroded, primarily as a result of industrialisation, urbanisation and over exploitative agricultural practices. The addition of novel adaptive traits to “wild-type organisms” could give some of them a competitive advantage and cause them to over-run natural communities of plants and animals, thus reducing both biological diversity and agro-biodiversity.

It is possible that genetic engineering will facilitate an even more rapid rate of loss of global agricultural and biological biodiversity. These impacts are of special concern to some developing countries, which are home to a large share of the world’s biodiversity, an asset that, among other things, promises significant economic benefits.

Currently, most GMOs, especially crops are proprietary and are owned almost exclusively by the private sector in industrialised countries. Many developing countries are concerned that companies from industrialised countries are patenting genetic material sourced from developing countries without sharing the benefits as required by the objectives of the CBD.

Genetic engineering may change the nature, structure and ownership of food production systems. While genetic engineering is often promoted by transnational corporations as an answer to the world’s food problems, real food security problems are caused not by food shortages, but by inequity, poverty and the concentration of food production. Genetic engineering is likely to further consolidate concentration and control of food production systems by a few large firms.

By increasing the herbicide resistance of crops, genetic engineering may boost the use of chemicals to kill weeds but harm the environment. In the same vein the use of pest resistant crops developed through genetic engineering may harm non-target organisms. While these GMOs are promoted as a way to increase crop yields, the results are at least currently, inconclusive. Finally, GMOs may also reduce crop diversity by promoting monocultures. In addition, new technologies such as ‘terminator technology’, which renders a crop’s seeds sterile, could lead to serious consequences as such as food insecurity.

Genetic modification may change the toxicity, allergenicity or nutritional value of food, and alter antibiotic resistance, with serious implications for human and animal life and health. The safety of GMO food and feed has not been ascertained while the testing of GMO products is complex and expensive. This would leave consumers at the mercy of producers of GMOs. Developing countries may not have the required capacity for determining the safety of GMO products.




The concern about the possible adverse effects of GMOs implies countries to establish National Biosafety Framework (NBFs). National biosafety frameworks are a system of legal, technical and administrative mechanisms that are established to address safety in the research, development, use and marketing of GMOs. National Biosafety Regulatory Frameworks are usually country-specific due to the different historical backgrounds and legal systems.

The development of NBFs are based on national aspirations and should take into account a country’s legal system and existing administrative structures, which are responsible for specific relevant areas.

Although national biosafety frameworks vary from country to country, they have common features:

i. Government policy on biosafety, which is usually part of broader policies such as policies on biotechnology in general, or sectorial policies on agricultural production, health care or environmental protection;
ii. Regulatory regime for biosafety, which often is a combination of enabling legislation, implementing regulations and complementing guidelines;
iii. Systems to handle notifications or requests for authorisations for certain activities, such as releases into the environment. Such systems typically include administrative functions, risk assessment, decision making and public participation;
iv. Systems for follow up such as enforcement and monitoring for environmental effects. Enforcement typically focuses on compliance with the regulatory regime, whereas monitoring is a term that usually refers to evaluating actual impacts on the environment and human health; and
v. Approaches for public information and public participation e.g. informing and involving stakeholders in the development and implementation of the National biosafety framework as well as international exchange of information.


The introduction of GMOs into a country must be based on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the results of cost-benefit analysis. There is need to develop and strengthen the technical expertise and institutional capacity to implement NBFs, this includes the following:

i. The competence to determine, implement, monitor and regulate conditions of containment appropriate for specific GMOs and specific environments in the country;
ii. Information management – keep updating and make available to users databases on GMOs;
iii. The technical capacity to evaluate the socio-economic impacts of GMOs;
iv. The legal and technical capacity to effectively criminalize the unauthorised transboundary movement of GMOs; and
v. The institutional, technical, scientific, legal and administrative capacity to undertake biosafety risk assessment and risk management.

(full long text).

Related Links:

Other Links:

Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies: Social media campaign goes viral (PHOTOS + Videos), on Russia Today RT, July 26, 2014;

NSA partnering with Saudi regime ‒ Snowden leak, on Russia Today RT, July 26, 2014;

The Muslims of Tromsø: Ramadan in the Land of the Midnight Sun, on Spiegel Online International, by Dennis Betzholz in Tromsø, Norway, July 25, 2014 (Photo Gallery): During Ramadan, Muslims fast until the sun goes down. But what if you live in a place where there is no sunset? The believers in Tromsø, Norway spent years searching for a solution to that conundrum. Now that they have found one, new problems have arisen …;

Resurrecting Königsberg: Russian City Looks to German Roots, on Spiegel Online International, by Susanne Beyer in Kaliningrad, Russia, July 25, 2014 (Photo Gallery): The Allies bombed the Prussian city of Königsberg into the ground in 1944. Residents of what is today the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, a desolate Soviet landscape, are considering rebuilding the city center to reflect some of its historical German architecture …;

Islamic State orders female genital mutilation for all women ages 11-46 in Mosul, on Jihad Watch, by Robert Spencer, July 24, 2014:
UPDATE 2:12PM: There are numerous reports that this is a hoax. The UN official has apparently not retracted it, and it is still being widely reported. Since it is consistent with Islamic law, it is possible that the story could turn out to be true, but the jury is out at this point …;

Ron Paul Wants to Encourage an Epidemic of Truth-Telling, on The Blaze, July 24, 2014;

Beauty on borrowed time, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Gamal Nkrumah, 12 – 18 July 2012: Salafist stirrings? Sexual mores under scrutiny? Literally, ends that mark new beginnings. Art in an Islamist-oriented Egypt is a fascinating subject not least in that it reveals the transient nature of social values that seem non-negotiable today …;

The 5 most dangerous countries for women, on TrustLaw, by Lisa Anderson, June 15, 2011:

  • Afghanistan is most dangerous country for women (tops expert poll of dangers to women),
  • Congo, plagued by rape as weapon of war,
  • Pakistan, blighted by acid attacks and ‘honour killings’,
  • India, cited for trafficking and sexual slavery,
  • Somalia, seen as having full gamut of risks;

… and this;

Comments are closed.