DIRECTOR of international programmes and food science lecturer at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), Winston Jones has made a pitch for the consumption of genetically-modified (GM) foods in Jamaica despite fears in quarters of various health risks.
"I am not so much against GM foods if it is going to (ensure that) people (have what to) eat. There is no study that has shown that GM foods have had any real deleterious effect on health or has created any kind of disease or is predisposed to," Jones told editors and reporters during the weekly Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's headquarters in Kingston yesterday.
Jones was part of a four-member panel from the college who yesterday spoke with the Observer team on issues related to food security, research work being done on breadfruit and ackee at CASE and education in agriculture, among other matters.
"Some persons have wondered whether it causes cancer but there is no empirical evidence. But a lot of the foods we eat have been modified because that's the way you can get high yield from a limited supply," he said in further defence of his point.
"Are you telling me that those people in Somalia and Ethiopia and those places are going to care what kind of beans they get? There is nothing to say it's not safe. Many things on the market are GM, they just don't tell you," Jones pointed out.
Essentially genetic modification is the technology used to change the genetic make-up of organisms such as animals, plants or bacteria. The genes are combined through a process known as Recombinant DNA technology and the resulting organism is said to be genetically modified or genetically engineered.
"When we import things like chicken back and leg and thigh and so on, GM foods do not pose as much risk as those foods and I am going to tell you why. Salmonella which is bacteria, you can spell salmonella c-h-i-c-k-e-n. The reason we in Jamaica don't get salmonella poisoning is because we cook the food," Jones argued, but took care to point out that that the chicken brought into the island from the United States is irradiated for salmonella before it leaves that country.
"I am for it because we have to eat, so what if we die at 50 (years of age?); it's better than dying at 25," he concluded wryly.
Meanwhile, colleague Major Johnathan Lamey pointed out that foods in Jamaica were not labelled to indicate that they have been genetically modified. He said what consumers should be even more vigilant about was the presence of hormones in various foods.
"Bear in mind, though, that there is something that we need to be aware of, the advent of the chemical known as hormones. Many of the foods we import were fed hormones, we just have to be sure the method of preparation destroys these hormones because they are in the food," Lamey said. He noted that it is "now a selling point for some companies to say we don't feed hormones". He said because of the perceived health risks attached to consuming foods with hormones more and more persons were turning to organically grown foods.
The Bodles Pig Farm in St Catherine some three years ago found itself at the centre of the GM foods row. While operators of the farm — Newport Genetics Limited — held that the science it used to breed pigs for local consumption was safe, the National Consumers League contended that the firm was genetically modifying the pigs and insisted that the meat be labelled to allow consumers to make an informed choice. The league, however, admitted that the firm was not breaking the law as there is currently no regulations prescribing such labelling. It, however, alleged that Jamaican consumers have been unsuspectingly buying ham produced from genetically altered pigs for more than two years at the time.