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Why Stakeholders Insist Genetically Modified Foods Are Unsafe



As the call for the promotion or rejection of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) rents the air, RUTH TENE NATSA captures the views of stakeholders on the raging debate.

Experts have defined genetically modified organism (GMOs) as a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one specie is extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. They say the foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans.

A new peer reviewed analysis “GMO By toxins: Safe for people and environment or super toxins?” systematically compares GMO and natural by proteins and shows that GMO developers in the process of inserting by-toxins into crops have removed many of the elements contributing to this narrow toxicity. Thus developers have made GMO insecticides that, in the words of one Monsanto patent, are “super toxins”.

The authors of these review additionally concluded that references to any GMO by toxins being “natural” are incorrect and scientifically unsupportable.

Quoting the review, Lawyer and Chair Alliance for the Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and the Coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Programme for Friends of Erath Nigeria and Africa, Marian Bassey – Orovwuje quoted the authors saying, ‘Ciba-Geigy measured its 176 by-toxins to be 5-10 times more toxicologically active when inserted into plants.
Monsanto patented a series of novel by-toxins with up to 7.9-fold enhanced activity and called these “super toxins” having “the combined advantages of increased insecticidal activity and concomitant broad spectrum activity”. The most powerful of these is now found in commercial MON863 corn.’

She also decried Nigeria Biosafety Chief defense of GMOs as worrisome.

Responding to an article, published October 9th in Premium Times titled “Nigeria bio-safety chief defends GMOs” Orovwuje alleged it had become the norm for the Nigerian Biosafety Chief, Dr. Rufus Egbeda to rise to the defense of GMOs.

LEADERSHIP recalls that the director-general had urged citizens to view genetically modified organisms from a knowledge angle and ignore statements that paint it as harmful. The DG had said “GMOs are not new crops invented by scientists but the same conventional crops that are improved on to tackle persistent issues such as shortage of food and insect infestation on crops.”

He added that “genetically modified organisms are not different from their conventional counterparts. Bassey-Orovwuje in her response to some participants at a high profile meeting, who also saw the article, and were visibly alarmed that a regulatory officer would be promoting GMOs, said “earnestly, is Nigeria’s chief biosafety regulatory officer saying that GMOs pose no harm or risks?”

She noted that GMOs are basically regulated because their safety is in doubt. “If indeed GMOs are safe, why should we have a regulatory agency? Why do we need a Biosafety Management Agency? The Agency was established to provide regulatory framework, for safety measures to check the adverse effects that GMOs would have on human health, animals, plants, and the environment” she queried.

She said “If indeed GMOs were safe, NBMA should be disbanded and the staff redeployed to line agencies. Staff promoting GMOs can be sent to the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), the agency mandated to promote GMOs. That is where they would be a perfect fit.”

In a statement to LEADERSHIP yesterday, the environmentalist recalled that the American Academy of Environmental Medicine in 2010, warned that evidence is strong enough that GMOs directly cause health harm to warrant warning people to avoid eating them. The academy noted that numerous studies and incidents have suggested that GMOs can cause problems including immune dysfunction, insulin disorders and damage to organs and the reproductive system.

“I dare to say that agroecology is the bold future for farming in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Let us keep those toxic chemicals, pesticides and insecticides, and all those imported solutions out of our food and agricultural systems and out of our plates” she said, maintaining that Nigeria deserves a biosafety regulatory system that is unbiased, pro-environment and pro-people.

“I am afraid that NBMA as presently set up and run is skewed in favour of GMOs. Going by the incessant statements of the Director General, the NBMA cannot be an unbiased referee, as it is clear it is already flying the colours of the pro-GMO train: she said. The environmentalist said she was taken aback with some of Biosafety Chief’s statements such as, ‘Genetically modified organisms are not different from their conventional counterparts.’

“If this was true, why would GM promoters or scientists go into so much trouble of inserting activated toxin genes from the soil-living bacterium Bacillus thuringiensi (Bt) into some crops? When the NBMA Boss admits that the crops are ‘modified,’ how can these ‘modified’ crops be the same with their natural, untainted, conventional counterpart?

Monsanto’s Maize application to NBMA was accompanied with a cocktail of chemicals -glyphosate formulations which will be applied to MON 89034 and NK603 (Maize).

“Contrary to Monsanto’s claims of its safety, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a sub unit of the World Health Organisation, concluded that there was strong evidence of genotoxicity and oxidative stress for glyphosate entirely from publicly available research, including findings of DNA damage in the peripheral blood of exposed humans. In a nutshell, the agency said glyphosate is likely to cause cancer.

“On 19th of October 2017, against all odds and despite industry scaremongering and pressure, the proposal to fully ban glyphosate by 2020 went through EU Parliament Environment committee. That means the EU Parliament environment committee supports glyphosate ban by 2020” she said.

Bassey- Orovwuje said “Lets us be reminded that the BT cotton, another of Monsanto’s application that had been rejected in Burkina Faso for failure to deliver good quality yield, one of the hyped promises from Monsanto. It was that same failed variety that was recycled and submitted here in Nigeria, and was approved by NBMA possibly to mark its first year of existence. Many reports of this by-toxin cotton’s abysmal failure abound.

“In the words of Parshuram Ghagi, from Yavatmal district in India, whose relative died of pesticide poisoning, ‘BT Cotton resistance claims have proven hollow.’ She further quoted former Vice-Chancellor Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth, Dr Sharad Nimbalkar, who said “BT Cotton variety in use has lost its potency. Besides, pests become resistant to even the pesticides over a period of time. As a result, the number of sprayings required to save the crop has increased.”

She queried the truth “that cowpea and sorghum were presently being tried at the Institute of Agricultural Research in Zaria,…also another product under trial called the `newest rice’ by the National Cereal Research Institute, Badegi.’ Is this for real?

She maintained that “aside from applications for Bt Cotton (MON 15985) and Confined Trial (1) NK603 AND (2) MON89034 X NK603 Maize, and most recently the AMY3 RNAi Transgenic Lines (transgenic Cassava Clones) by International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and ETHZ Biotechnology Lab in Zurich, that were announced by NBMA, there is no clarity on how other staples, cowpea (beans), sorghum, rice, all major Nigerian stable food, are being genetically modified and on field trials in Nigeria.”

“When did the trials for cowpea, rice and Sorghum begin? Which institution(s) or corporation(s)/companies, laboratories are collaborating with the said institutions doing the trials? Under what laws were these trials authorised? How come it was not subjected to public comments like the case of the cotton, maize and cassava as provided by section 25(1) National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015 which states.

‘The Agency shall upon the receipt of the application and the accompanying information under section 23 of this Act, display copies of such application and relevant information at such places and for such period as the Agency may, from time to time determine to enable the general public and relevant government ministries and agencies study and make comments on the application and relevant information within 21 days.”

She also asked if copies of the applications for Cowpea (Beans), Sorghum and Rice be made available? Earlier, Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, had alerted Nigerians on tons of genetically modified (GM) maize imported into the country without necessary approvals.
“These GMOs should not have been authorised to head to Nigerian ports in the first instance. We are worried that this incident may just be a fraction of other undetected arrival of unauthorised foods into Nigeria, including those of the genetically modified varieties.



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