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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid