and Fishberries: What comes next?
GMO can no longer remain technical jargon to us. Genetically
Modified Organisms, or the more talked-about Genetically Modified
Foods (GMF) are fast becoming one of the most talked about and debated
topics. With Sri Lanka becoming a signatory to the Biosafety Protocol
on May 24, 2000, and its planned ratification in the future, the
need for a National Biosafety Framework (NBF) for our country has
become even more pressing in recent times.
is one of the more lucrative aspects of modern scientific advances.
An LMO (Living Modified Organism) is any living organism that possesses
a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use
of modern biotechnology.
The essence of this practice lies principally in genetic engineering,
wherein the genetic instructions (i.e. DNA) of a living organism
can be changed for numerous other applications, usually for the
benefit of humans.
The positive aspect of biotechnology has long been explored:
It is used for the production of crops resistant to insects and
pests, thus contributing towards sustainable agriculture by reducing
agrochemical inputs. Biotechnology is also utilized for the production
of pharmaceuticals as well as edible vaccines (e.g. Hepatitis).
However, it is the use of this scientific wonder in the field of
food production that has stirred a global uproar. The modification
of genes to produce more nutritious Golden Rice, as well the genetic
alteration that results in the production of Fishberries, which
contain genes extracted from fish injected into strawberries, are
some the breakthroughs that have caused controversy the world over.
Sometimes dubbed 'Frankenstein Foods', GMFs could have an ill-effect
on human health. Research reveals that, due to its modified DNA
structure, Genetically Modified Foods may cause altered immune responses
in the body which can in turn result in an allergy.
must be evaluated during various phases of their preparation, as
adverse effects cannot be ruled out.
of milk produced by cows that have genetically instilled BST, a
compound that stimulates milk production, may sometimes result in
the increase in growth factor, ultimately causing adverse effects
to human health are only one aspect of the controversy.
issues have also cropped up, with some parties stating that the
trans-gene, which may move to other organisms through natural systems,
could eventually result in herbicide resistant 'superweeds', thus
resulting in an ecological imbalance.
There is also
the possibility of GM plants becoming invasive species, thus detrimentally
affecting the bio-diversity of our country.
Legal queries are another side to the story. Can we allow a
few organizations to 'own' a gene through patenting the myriad of
genes available in our own country? Even if it weren't allowed,
what would be the fate of bio-pirates, who may 'thieve' the gene
anyway, as it requires only a morsel of the specimen to acquire
the necessary gene?
Ethical and moral values have not escaped the equation. Does anyone
have the right to 'own' life, and change what has been created?
On a different note, if a gene from a fish were to be injected into
a strawberry (as in the case of the fishberry), does that mean a
vegetarian cannot consume it? Food for thought indeed.
The debate continues;
the questions are endless, and the formulation of the National Biosafety
Framework (NBF) becomes ever more important. The NBF is a system
of legal, technical and administrative mechanisms that would address
safety in the field of biotechnology in our own country. GMOs declared
safe in one country may not be the same in another, as the nature
of the organism varies according to its environment.
of Environment and Natural Resources is setting up a National Biosafety
Framework Development Project under the co-ordination of Prof. Athula
Perera. The project aims to complete the NBF by November 2004.
The main elements
of the National Biosafety Framework of Sri Lanka are:
* A regulatory
system set in place to address safety in the field of modern biotechnology,
* An administrative
system to handle requests for permits for certain activities, such
as releases of GMOs,
* A decision-making
system that includes risk assessment and management for the release
for public participation and information.