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Genetically Modified Foods in Africa: The Chain Termination Sequence Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Antony Felix O. Simbowo, Kenya Jun 9, 2005
Environment , Health , Food Security   Opinions
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Genetically Modified Foods in Africa: The Chain Termination Sequence The era of genetically manipulated foods is here with us. Africa and the Third World must wake up to this realization. Within the decade, there has been an avalanche of agro biotechnology companies spreading their wings to the developing world, especially in Africa, to continue their genetic engineering ambitions unhindered by public outcry and law suits, as is the case in the developed world especially in the United States and Europe.

The silence regarding these practices in Africa and the Third World has been largely attributed to ignorance and lack of adequate information in as far as the presence of the crops and foods products in Africa and the impacts and consequences of their adoption by the region’s populace.

The main target of these companies in Africa and the Third World has been the genetically superior traditional crops grown and consumed by the majority of the regions’ dwellers. Luminary scholars such as Kenya’s Professor Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, have expressed their objections to the manipulation of the gene pool of these crops for the purposes of patenting and engineering.

Professor Abukutsa-Onyango, the holder of a PhD from the University of London, is herself a globally respected researcher in traditional African crops and has over the years been working tirelessly to see that the preservation of these crops’ gene pool is properly handled for a more sustainable current and future food security within the region. In a tête-à-tête with the writer, she confirmed that the future food security prospects of Africa and the Third World lie in their cultivation and preservation of their traditional food crops and not in the mass and unregulated adoption of temperate food crops, most of which are generally genetically and nutritionally inferior and cannot therefore grow and produce well in the developing world.

Even as genetically modified foods find their way into Africa and the rest of the developing world, many salient issues dealing with the bioethical, medical as well as socio-economic aspects of the introduction of the crops have been wantonly ignored and still remain unaddressed to date. These compounded by the fact that most of these multinational companies fighting for the promotion of GM foods in the Third World are economically powerful and influential, only leaves the African plight appearing helpless and dragged to the dogs of socio-economic exploitation.

Fact is, genetically modified foods are engineered such that they possess what is known as the chain termination sequence. Pioneered by a British Biochemist, Fredrick Sanger, the process (also called the Sanger or the dideoxy process) manipulates the plants’ genetic structure such that it cannot produce a viable offspring. This means that after the first harvest, a farmer has to go back to the seed vendor and buy a fresh supply of seeds from the patent holding company for planting since the first produce can only be consumed and not be successfully re-grown. This therefore creates a complete dependence on the companies for the continuous supply of seeds.

Similarly, the application of the chain tracer DNA technology ensures that the farmer has to go to the same companies for the supply of chemical hormones for use in triggering such crop growth stages as fruiting, seeding among others. This would also perpetuate the dependence of the African and Third World farmers on the monopolizing companies. The loss of self-sustainability in food production in these countries would thus be of catastrophic consequences. Many of the already economically subjugated African and Third World countries will therefore be fully economically overrun and enslaved to the whims of other biotechnologically superior ones. By genetically engineering crops mostly produced in Africa and the developing world and therefore easing their production in the laboratory without the need for farm cultivations, the survival of the African farmers is threatened as they will definitely lose the international markets for their products effectively making them and their countries poorer.

This method of genetically altering the cellular DNA structures in plants and animals is generally known as the Recombinant DNA technology and employs the use of the DNA polymerase enzyme. Simply and briefly, it involves the addition of what are known as deoxy-nucleotides and dideoxy-nucleotides to a primered DNA template. The polymerase enzyme therefore acts as a catalyst for the joining of the deoxy-nucleotides to the relevant amino acid bases. The joining between dideoxy-nucleotides to amino acid bases will stop the particular DNA strand from being elongated. Since the genes used usually come from two distinct organisms, the resulting plant or animal is then referred to as a transgenic, that is, containing genes from two different sources.

There have been justified outcries from several quarters in the globe with each voicing their concerns as well as support for this technology. However, the fact that the life’s genetic structure can be scientifically reprogrammed by genetic engineering brings to note many crucial issues and points both in Africa and globally. Several deaths from the consumption of genetically modified foods have been recorded worldwide. Many skeptics have even related the recent Kenyan deaths apparently after the consumption of maize, to genetically modified maize and not the parsing of aflatoxins. This still opens a Pandora’s box of accusations and counter-accusations. Tests have also confirmed the presence of allergens in the bodies of persons after the consumption of genetically modified foods. The presence of carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds such as gluphosates in chemicals like herbicides and pesticides also puts the user at a great risk of contracting cancerous ailments. These compounds are known to act by causing genetic mutations in the body thus leading to uncontrolled multiplication of cells resulting into cancer.

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Writer Profile
Antony Felix O. Simbowo

TakingITGlobal has never been more apt than it is now in providing a forum for expression. This is because the dynamic world has undeveloped challenges that pose a great problem to the growth and daily life of any youth in the global society. What with the incessant wars, poverty, HIV/AIDS, pornography, racism and several other vices creeping into the society in a culture best objectified as vicious gradualism.
Here is where writing comes in handy and the TakingITGlobal literati, glitterati and pundits alike have provided a vital conduit through which these vices, positive and negative dynamism can be expressed.
I am saddened for example, when a promising youth is reduced to a hopeless parasite by drugs. More saddening is when I see the mercilessness, the hopelessness, the dereliction, the lack of love that many children, youth and people are subjected to due to wars, poverty, pornography and such as other negativities which silently and slowly kill the spirit and will within humans! Having gone through such experiences myself, I pray that God gives me the massive ability to be able to help these people to the best of my ability with His guidance, provision and protection. I have often wondered whether the expression "do unto others what you would have them do unto you" is being subjected to relativity. These are the problems which need highlighting and what better forum is there than TakingITGlobal.
I am privileged to be part of this ideologically vimmed and gustoed community.

Thomas Ronald Shotwell | Jul 11th, 2005
In some cases in the "third world" such products have been a benifit, but rarly are they this way. For this reason I must agrea with all that is stated. your's, thom Shotwell

Right Thom
Antony Felix O. O. Simbowo | Mar 16th, 2006
The article simply explores the possible and proven negative effects of the products. It awakens an insight into the formulation and implementation of a sound biopolicy before full adoption of GMOs. Otherwise, GMOs are okay for the developing world as long as these are taken into consideration and transparency observed.

GM Foods
Selwyn Milborrow | Jan 24th, 2007
Interesting article. As a South African I agree that public should be informed on the advantages of GM foods because it can reduce malnutrition damatically.

Antony Felix O. O. Simbowo | Mar 13th, 2007
About malnutrition and GM foods is still a question of the after effects. I know the techie is in high gear in SA right now and I believe it portends a good future for food security in Africa. But as I mentioned in the article, let us tread with caution and not be 'eurekaring'. Science is an intricate matter. One small mistake can make the whole continent a hell house. Yet again, GM foods' direction is promising. Thanks a lot. Antony

Re: GM Foods
Vanessa de Waal | Jun 13th, 2010
The topic of Genetically modified foods has interested me for quite some time. I have attended workshops, read many articles, and have learned about the topic through ecology courses in school. I'm afraid to say that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. What GM foods is famous for doing is putting farmers in debt. They are expensive for the farmer , as gradually the farmer needs more and more biotechnology to sustain his outputs. Eventually, so many farmers encounter such an abundance of the same stock, that it is worth nothing on the market and the farmer suffers from debt. They also strip farmers of their breeding selection and reproduction traditions because most are hybrid varieties that need to be bought each year from the biotech industry. This puts large riches into the pockets of a few large companies. GM foods may cure malnutrition temporarily, but they do not endorse purchasing and eating locally. And as the world has learned from the disastrous effects and potential from unsustainable resources, such as oil, the world needs to invest in sustainable resources. By this, I mean, the small farmer next door. GM foods are designed to create big quantities of mediocre quality. They also strip lands of the biodiversity which is vital to life. Yes there are advantages, as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, however the big picture needs to be anticipated when one assumes the role of mother nature. Furthermore, there is nothing more delightful than the taste, smell, and sight of fruitful plant growing from the beautiful seeds of nature. Thank you for your article. Take a look at: http://tigurl.org/2q4cim ; http://tigurl.org/2q4cimstoryoffood/

I agree Vanessa
Antony Felix O. O. Simbowo | Aug 27th, 2010
Look at cases where there is reduction in crop pest and disease infestations though as some examples of what biotechnology contributes towards development. Get back to me again.

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