Modern Biotechnology and Biosafety

Genetic Engineering, and Food Production

Genetic engineering is defined as “deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material”. Recombinant DNA techniques & tools are used to transfer a gene of interest to a desired host organism. This technology eliminates the limitation of conventional plant breeding methods where gene transfer is only possible between the same or closely related species, as gene(s) of interest are transferred directly to the desired host without the need for sexual compatibility with the donor organism.

It also employs techniques used in conventional breeding, thus can be considered as an improved method of plant breeding.

For example, maize can be genetically engineered to tolerate drought or banana to produce micronutrients such as Vitamin A.    It is important to note that not all genetic engineering is achieved through gene transfer; genes of host plant can be silenced     to prevent their expression using various molecular techniques.

The next generation of genetically engineered organisms are developed using technologies designed to sidestep regulatory requirements by removing factors that raise regulatory concerns; an example is the use of non-antibiotic markers or techniques that allow the removal of marker genes from a genetically engineered organism.

The main steps involved in development of a GMO, using GE, are as outlined below;

  1. Identify gene of interest
  2. Design vector
  3. Transformation of host (biolistic or agrobacterium mediated transformation methods)
  4. Selection and regeneration of transformed cells
  5. Verify insertion and expression of gene of interest.
  6. Selection of best transgenic plant
  7. Regulatory approval process

Regulation of GMOs in Ghana

The Biosafety Act 2011, Act 831 established the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of safe development, transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms resulting from biotechnology that may have an adverse effect on health and the environment. The NBA has responsibility of ensuring safe conduct of all GMO contained and confined trials as well as its introduction into the environment, import or placement on the market, export and transit.

In executing its mandate, the NBA is enjoined by Act 831 to collaborate with the following regulatory institutions through its Governing Board and Technical Advisory Committee:

  1. Food and Drugs Authority (FDA),
  2. Protection Agency (EPA),
  3. Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSD),
  4. Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA)
  5. Veterinary Services Directorate (VSD)

Other institutions include Ghana Standards Authority, District Assemblies, Metropolitan Assemblies, Municipal Assemblies and any other Local Government Authorities.

Role of FDA in ensuring the safety of GMOs

The role of the FDA within the national biosafety framework relates to its core mandate to protect public health and safety as stipulated by the Public Health Act 2012, Act 851, Part 7. The FDA therefore provides food safety expertise in the consideration of applications for introduction into the environment, import or place on the market and export of GMOs. The FDA evaluates risk assessment documents submitted by applicants on the basis of the following codex guidance documents:

  1. Codex Principles for the Risk Analysis of Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology
  2. Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants.

Food Safety Concerns

The regulatory end points for the evaluation of risk assessment documents submitted by applicants relate to toxicity and allergenicity of the novel protein as well as the nutritional composition relating to levels of nutrients, anti-nutrients, naturally occurring toxins and allergens amongst others attributable to changes in biochemical pathways. Data and information submitted by applicants in fulfillment of regulatory requirements enable regulators assess product safety. These have been outlined in international consensus documents as provided by the following Codex documents:

  1. Codex Principles for the Risk Analysis of Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology
  2. Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants.

The WHO, FAO, and OECD considers genetically modified organisms for food, feed and processing (GMO-FFP) that have been approved in accordance with international guidelines for risk assessment of the same, are as safe as its conventional counterpart (OECD, 1993; WHO, 1991). After two-decades and a half long research commissioned by the EU, involving 130 research projects and 500 independent research groups; the report concluded that “biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se riskier than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies” (EU, 2010).

WHO (1991) World Health Organization [Online] Strategies for assessing the safety of foods produced by biotechnology. Available from: http://library.health.go.ug/download/file/fid/790 Accessed on: February 2, 2016.

OECD (1993) Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [Online] Safety evaluation of foods derived by modern biotechnology – concepts and principles Available from: http://www.oecd.org/science/biotrack/41036698.pdf Accessed on: February 2, 2016.

EU (2010) European Union [Online] A decade  of EU-funded GMO research (2001 – 2010) Available from: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/233770770_A_decade_of_EU-funded_GMO_research_(20012010) , Accessed on: February 1, 2016.

Links to website of relevant agencies for further information

  1. International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB): http://www.icgeb.org/home.html
  2. African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE): http://nepad-abne.net/
  3. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA): http://www.isaaa.org/
  4. Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS): http://pbs.ifpri.info/
  5. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): www.efsa.europa.eu
  6. European Commission http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/index_en.htm
  7. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ): www.foodstandards.gov.au
  8. United States Food and Drugs Administration (USFDA) http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodScienceResearch/GEPlants/default.htm
  9. GMO Compass http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/home/

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