News / Africa

GM Food Opponent Becomes Biotech Supporter

A farmer holds up a bunch of cassava roots, dug up from his farm in Oshogbo, Nigeria. Cassava is threatened by brown streak disease, but GM food technology could help to prevent the disease's impact on the crop.
A farmer holds up a bunch of cassava roots, dug up from his farm in Oshogbo, Nigeria. Cassava is threatened by brown streak disease, but GM food technology could help to prevent the disease's impact on the crop.

Multimedia

Audio
By Abigail Martin

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have been the cause of much controversy in recent years. Numerous environmental groups say these foods are not fit for consumption and may pose serious health risks.


However, some in the scientific community and organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science have stated, quote, “the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe."
 
The history of the GM food dispute dates back to the mid-1990s. Mark Lynas, a British author, journalist, and environmental activist, says the misconceptions about GM foods that surfaced during that time have led to the debate we see today. 
 
Lynas explained, “There were several elements of how this debate unfolded which became almost like a perfect storm. The first and the central aspect of this is that genetic modification was doing something very new, and something where humans were taking a technological step which shouldn’t be taken. They were somehow violating the order of nature itself by transferring DNA between entirely unrelated organisms which couldn’t breed naturally.”
 
Lynas was once a steadfast opponent of GM foods. After campaigning against GMOs quite passionately, Lynas announced in January 2013 that he had reassessed his position. He said that he was wrong to oppose GM foods. Lynas says his evaluation of scientific evidence led him to radically alter his views.
 
“This has been a very long learning process for me,” he said. “I was very enmeshed in the scientific community. I would always say, ‘You’ve got to focus on peer-reviewed science, you’ve got to listen to the scientific consensus on this issue.’ And at the same, I was writing profoundly unscientific screeds about GMOs. Of course, that was an inconsistent position to hold, yet it’s one that the environmental movement largely still holds today.”
 
When Lynas began to look closely at recent research involving GM foods, he was encouraged by the progress that scientists had made.
 
“The only people who can be seen to communicate honestly about this are the scientists who work in the public sector,” he said. “Luckily, there are many public sector scientists who are doing a lot of fascinating work. Scientists at Rothamsted Research in the UK are developing a GMO wheat which is designed to be resistant to aphids. Aphids are an important insect pest but they’re also a vector for viruses. If we were able to deploy this, then we would be able reduce the use of chemical pesticides.”
 
However, the public outcry for GM labeling and boycotting has hindered the advancement of the technology. Concern about GM foods has been fueled by studies like the one published by French professor Gilles-Eric Séralini in September 2012. Séralini claimed that his research involving rats proved that the GM corn fed to them caused tumor growth. The validity of the study was widely criticized by scientists worldwide following its publication.
 
Furthermore, there is growing concern that the pesticides used on GMOs are contributing to the decline of the world’s honey bee population. A class of insecticides used on GM foods known as neonicotinoids can lead to honey bee deaths by infecting the brains of the insects with toxins. In April 2013, the EU voted to ban three types of neonicotinoids for two years.
 
Lynas remains a GM food supporter despite these concerns. He says that GM crops could ensure the survival of families living in drought-prone and impoverished areas.
 
“Whether or not you as a smallholder farmer have a successful harvest is the key definer of whether your kids can go to school, whether they’ll be malnourished, whether you can even see your kids survive the year. It depends on how much you can grow yourself. We’re talking about food security in rural areas across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia. You can help them be more resilient against droughts with more water-efficient crops; you can help them be more resilient against pests and diseases with pest-resistant crops. Saying that people should not have access to these seeds—saying that farmers should be denied the choice of what to plant—is a very worrying and, in many ways, an anti-humanitarian approach,” he said.
 
The import of GM foods is banned in many African countries. However, funding for biotechnology research that could directly impact African smallholder farmers continues. One promising development is the creation of cassava that is resistant to brown streak disease, a great cause for concern in East Africa. Cassava is the staple crop for two out of every five Africans.

Lynas says he understands that people remain wary of consuming GM foods. He recommends the labeling of non-GM foods so that consumers can make that decision without a regulatory burden being placed on GMOs.

You May Like

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs