Common points used by anti-GMO activists to spread misinformation in Kenya and Africa

by James Kamuye Kataru

As debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) continues, there has been an increase in public interest for information concerning the safety of these products. In my experience as a pro-GMO activist, I have encountered a series of common questions twisted in different ways to confuse my response. This has happened so often that I have come up with eight (8) common points which properly addressed can fully snatch the wind out of the anti-GMO sails.

Summarily, the most common points promoted by anti-GMO activists include;

  1. How GMOs are produced: Most anti campaigners push the idea that GMO products are a result of injections, syringes and test tubes in hideous laboratories led by heartless scientists. This has been frequently visualized by images of crops like maize and fruits and animals being injected with a big syringe whose contents have no known human origin.
  • Large fruit and vegetables can only be achieved through genetic modification: In my days of ignorance, I had the same problem. I used to believe that every big fruit I saw on the market, all big veggies etc., were a product of GMO technology. Little did I know that some dedicated farmers somewhere were taking their practice seriously and getting very good results using traditional conventional farming approaches.
  •  Genetically modified organisms are a health risk: This is delivered as an assertion, other than a question that seeks indulgence and explanation from professionals. The moment you try to answer this, you are resisted and given no time and space because it’s unleashed with finality! However, there are no peer reviewed scientific articles to suggest that GMO’s pose any more of a health risk than conventionally bred crops do.
  • Eating GMOs causes cancer: Immediately you are prevented from laying facts as to why genetically modified organisms are not a health risk, you are quickly reminded that eating these products causes cancer. This is usually delivered with a ‘punch’ meant to deflate and kill the debate. However, no cancer has ever been linked to GMO’s in humans.
  • Consumption of genetically engineered organisms causes sicknesses that are immune to antibiotics: Like I said before, one question can be twisted in several ways to create a different meaning. This is either out of ignorance, or a blatant fear for facts in an effort to remain relevant. Evidently, this question is not very much different from questions 3 and 4. 
  • There shall be contamination of organic and non GMOs: By this, the group argues that with cross pollination on farms which cannot be prevented, GMOs will contaminate and eventually eliminate the non GMOs. This has been used to cause so much fear in farmers and producers who are yet to fully understand the technology.
  • GMO technology poses a risk to food security by creating a single-point failure: By this the anti-activists mean there will only be a few companies controlling seed production and if they fail for one reason or another, seed shall be scarce and very expensive for peasant farmers.  It’s further argued that corporate control and concentration of power in a few entities will enforce patents and monopolize seed and food supply. I only look to the research conducted by our own Kenyan government agricultural research organizations to understand this is not true.
  • The fear for long term health effects: Such positions make consumers to insist for labeling of products to help them know and choose what to consume. It also makes skeptic farmers demand for labels in order to choose what to grow and produce. Although labeling is not necessarily bad it adds costs to these products which are shown to be no more dangerous to human health than their conventionally bred counterparts.

How to navigate these points.

Not enough has been done by the media, scientists, and players in the GMO world to feed the masses with the right information on the technology. The general feeling by the average consumer that this technology is ‘privileged’ and accessible to a few energized anti-GMO activists who insist the ‘secrecy’ by which research has been conducted across Africa points to so many things that are not right. When in reality the amount of extensive research conducted only ensures that the government is releasing food that is safe. The research is conducted in controlled environments to ensure it is held to high standards, not to hide any secret activity. Papers are regularly published throughout the scientific community on the transparency of this research.

It’s high time we came out boldly, and time the information left research stations, laboratories, test centers, and heads of our lead professors and researchers, and got placed in the open for public consumption by doing the following;   

  1. Collaborate in forming networks of pro-GMO activists amidst the farming communities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Malawi and Rwanda. (We can start with Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda since we have our network representatives there.)
  • Train the networks and arm them with sufficient fact-based information to use in the pro-GMO campaigns using social media platforms, webinars, and organize physical sessions in their areas of operation.
  • Organize peaceful pro-GMO campaigns, marches, processions and other outdoor activities in collaboration with the Kenya government ministry of Agriculture and other partners in the GMO technology world. The aim of these activities should be;
  1. To increase the presence of those for GMO technology
  2. To educate farmers, consumers, and the general public on the benefits of GMO technology
  3. To provide facts about the technology and dispel fear and misinformation in the country and region.
  • Organize radio and TV sessions with leading media houses and experts in the GMO world to expound on the technology, inform the public/viewers on its genesis in the country and benefits to humanity.
  • Print pro-GMO placards, shirts, memes, and distribute to our activists after training to use in their campaigns. We should also roll out our artists to do other works that can take the information right to the consumer. 

It’s high time GMO experts took to media houses in talk shows, documentaries, and fed the public with fact to allay the fear created. It’s time pro-GMO foot soldiers took to cyber-streets and highways and used physical gatherings to hold peaceful processions in major towns in conjunction with supportive governments and line ministries.

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