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

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid