Every time the Ministry of Health weighs in on the debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it is almost always to effect a ban. From the recent move to stop field trials to maintaining the earlier ban on GMOs which was informed by a now discredited French study, the ministry is overly sensitive to all matters GMOs. Whereas there is need to regulate biotechnology-driven solutions, this must not hinder research.
Scientific trials for instance are conducted within very controlled parameters; and our local scientists can be trusted to stick to scientific rigour in conducting trials. A country in the middle of a severe drought should fast-track research in GMOs not stifle it.
Perhaps it is time to give GMOs a break since we do not have any scientific evidence that they are responsible for the numerous health problems the country is facing. All energies should be put in confronting specific socially accepted and perfectly legal products such as alcohol which are known drivers of chronic ill health and premature deaths.
As a country, we have made a big mistake of looking at alcohol only as a social problem. Consequently, we have done very little to address alcohol as a leading cause of cancer. Ethanol, the only form of alcohol fit for human consumption, is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of WHO, as a group 1 carcinogen. This category is used when there is sufficient evidence that a product or agent causes cancer in human beings.
The fact that alcoholic beverages cause cancer is supported unequivocally by sound science. But when it comes to calling alcohol a carcinogen in social discourse, even healthcare professionals tend to beat about the bush, possibly fearing industry backlash. Those who drink expensive spirits, wines or beers have the same risk with consumers of illicit brews like changaa.
Alcohol causes cancers of the liver, mouth, tongue, gums, throat, oesophagus, and colon. Women who drink have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer. It is responsible for six per cent of cancer deaths globally, the rates could be higher in our country given the growing number of consumers.
Naturally the industry would want to do everything possible to cast doubts on the association between alcohol and cancer.