The CEO of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Eric Okoree, has said the Bt cowpea will be labeled. He explained that it is a requirement by law that both prepackaged and nonprepackaged genetically modified (GM) foods be labeled. He made this submission in a TV interview where he announced the approval of the Bt cowpea by the NBA.
He said the decision was made in consultation with relevant stakeholder groups that came to the agreement that there should be labeling for the purpose of choice.
“When the (Bt) cowpea comes out, it will be labeled wherever it finds itself on the market. It becomes easier when it goes to the supermarkets, because there, it is in polythene bags and is labeled, so that you know that this is the GM cowpea which they have been talking about. And if you like it, you choose it, and if you don’t, you avoid it,” He added that, on the open market, the idea is to get sellers of the produce to write on cards to indicate that their nonprepackaged Bt cowpea, is genetically modified.
The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), has laid down guidelines for labeling foods derived from genetically modified organisms and food containing genetically modified ingredients.
The guidelines define “Label” as any tag, brand, mark, pictorial or other descriptive matter, written, printed, stenciled, marked, embossed, or impressed on, or attached to a container of food.
It also defines “Prepackaged” as packaged or made up in advance in a container, ready for offer to the consumer, or for catering purposes. According to the same guidelines, “Non-prepackaged GM food” is defined as food obtained from Genetic Modification, or, food containing GM ingredients on the market without packaging, which can be packaged at the point of sale at the consumer’s request; or can be packaged ad hoc, for direct sale.
Some scientists have expressed their opinion on the labeling of Ghana’s first GM crop for consumption.
Dr. Richard Ampadu-Ameyaw, of the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI) told the Alliance for Science that labelling has its own merits and demerits. He said usually, when products are labeled, people tend to ask why, with some arguing that labeling gives consumers the opportunity to choose between genetically modified and non-genetically modified produce.
Others argue that it is labelled because it is bad and developers do not want legal action taken against them.
“Labelling is actually an economic activity that affords consumers the prerogative or the opportunity, to choose. But ask yourself how many people in this part of the world read labels. Even when we are served water at workshops or other events and places, we do not read the label. We just take it and drink without checking the acidic content or anything.”
Dr. Ampadu-Ameyaw also noted that it will not be financially prudent to spend money making labels which will not be read by consumers.
“Since there isn’t any difference between the GM cowpea and non-GM cowpea, there is no need labeling them, if you ask me. But if the law requires it, then we are bound to follow what it has specified. Consumers will see no difference in the long run.”
The former Director-General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Prof. Alhassan Walter, agrees that customers have the right to know what they are buying, for reasons bordering on trade, religious beliefs or reasons other than safety, because GM crops are safe to consume.
He believes labeling non-prepackaged food sold on the market is not tenable because it will be difficult to enforce or implement.
“How many times do they go round to check grocery shops or supermarkets that should have their prepackaged products labeled? I don’t think it will be easy implementing and enforcing labeling on nonprepackaged GM foods. In the case of prepacked foods, it’s easier to monitor.
If a vendor cooks with the GM cowpea, how would you know?”, he quizzed.
Research scientist with the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Daniel Osei Ofosu, opines that ultimately, people will come to realize that GM foods are safe, so, labeling will cease to be an issue. He warns that if left unmonitored, misleading labeling could occur to put some sellers at an unmerited advantage over others, because of consumer demand.
Labeling of GMOs remain a controversial issue world wide. In the US, the Department of Agriculture introduced new rules this year changing labels on genetically modified food products from GMOs to bioengineered. Europe also requires GMOs to be labeled. However, there have been concerns on labeling requirements in places like Southern America which require food producers to emboss GM products with dangerous looking logos that create negative impressions about GMOs. It remains to be seen how Ghanaian food consumers will respond to the labeling when Ghana’s first GM cowpea eventually hits the mar