By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja
The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa have decried the loss of food safety in Nigeria, under an alleged permitting regulatory agency
In a statement to LEADERSHIP signed by the Director, HOMEF, Mr Nnimmo Bassey and AFSA Chairperson Mariann Bassey- Orovwuje, it stated that this is as a result of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) permitting the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to grow Genetically Modified (GM) Cassava.
The Statement reads “HOMEF and a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have condemned the granting of a permit to the IITA and ETHZ Plant Biotechnology Lab in Zurich to carry out Confined Field Trials (CFT) of genetically modified (GM) cassava (AMY3 RNAi Transgenic lines) in Ibadan by the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).
It noted that the agency had issued the permit in spite of HOMEF’s 37 pages objection supported by eighty-seven organisations, outlining why this classic staple crop should not be toyed with by modern agricultural biotechnology merchants.
The statement noted that the timeframe given by NBMA for comments was July 27 2017 – August 24, 2017. It however noted that “The approval for the GM cassava was given by NBMA to IITA and ETHZ on the 22nd of September 2017, less than a month after they advertised for comments.
“We sent our 37 pages objection to NBMA on the 21st of August 2017. NBMA sent a letter via email acknowledging our objection on the 20th of September 2017. In their letter, they stated amongst other things that our objections had been noted and that they will review the application holistically. On September 22nd 2017, NBMA granted the approval to IITA, a mere two days after they acknowledged our objection and stated that they will look into it” it read
The statement revealed that the issuance of the permit became public from the press Statement issued by IITA titled: ‘IITA to carry out field trials of GM cassava’ on 19 December 2017.
HOMEF director, Nnimmo Bassey, who reacted to the development said, “Again, NBMA has demonstrated that they do not consider public opinion and objections. Their calls for comments are just window dressing and an insult to Nigerians. The approval granted IITA is the requiem for food safety in Nigeria.
He further lamented that “the purpose for the GMO cassava experiment is shrouded in secrecy as the IITA and NBMA send conflicting signals as to whether the GMO cassava is being aimed for food or for industrial processes” It is regretted that NBMA cannot distinguish between being an agency that regulates biosafety and one that is set up to promote the technology ”he said
Also speaking, AFSA’s Chair Mariann Bassey- Orovwuje said “We are on the wrong train, with a wrong driver heading to a doubtful destination.”
“In our objection to the GM Cassava application that was sent to NBMA we noted that the Applicants backed their application for a novel technology in 2017 with vastly outdated publications, including ones published in 1974, 1978 and 1984. We queried what environmental impact assessment including baseline surveys was done by IITA and ETZ to support their claims of absence of wild varieties as well on possible health impacts”.
The CSOs recalled that the NBMA had approved Monsanto’s BT cotton that Burkina Faso had rejected in 2016 for failure to deliver good quality yield, noting that the Agency saw nothing wrong with saddling Nigerians with the burden of a failed technology.
The group alleged that “the Applicants are testing AMY3 RNAi lines RNAi, a technique that is novel – and although there is no experience with such GE plants in Nigeria as of yet, it is known that there are separate risk issues associated with this technology and only few RNAi based plants have been commercialized – typically in the US in commodity crops that serve primarily as animal feed”.
They urged the Nigerian government to investigate the process in which NBMA had been issuing permits including the ones issued to Monsanto, NABDA_ and now IITA/ETZ, noting that the claim by the applicants that no cassava plant from the experimental field trail will be consumed is very deceptive. It will be almost impossible to rule out surreptitious acquisition of the stem-cuttings and the likelihood of unlawful harvest by locals who had always accessed improved cassava varieties from IITA.
“The stability of the traits involved as well as the potential for gene flow, and the risks posed by this GM cassava to farmers, consumers, economy, environment and lots more remain unknown.
Convener of Nigerians against GMOs Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour added that “The capture and manipulation of our staple crops is taking a steep colonial track and the colonisation of our foods and culture spells a grave danger that government must be awake to. Platitudes from NBMA are worthless and must be treated with ample caution,” urged
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