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GMOs And Mounting Concerns Over Health Issues

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GMOs are organisms whether plants, animals or micro-organisms which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.

The technology is often called modern biotechnology, gene technology or genetic engineering that allowed selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another.

Foods produced from or using GMOs are called GM foods, just as such category of foods could create monster humans due to gene mixtures.

GM components can be found in foods, fruits and cereals such as corn, millet, mango, banana, apple, wheat, flour, rice, soya products and among others.

Findings by LEADERSHIP Newspaper highlighted that toxic insecticide produced by GMO corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn foetuses while milk from treated cows contained more of the hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) which has been linked to cancer.

This is even as components of GMOs found in food alter embryo development in pregnant women, a situation that have been linked to increasing number of  deformed babies after birth.

Further research revealed that the increasing use of Monsanto Roundup pesticide – Glysophate is the major reason for the alarming cases of cancers, infertility, mental diseases and autistic spectrum disorders in children in Nigeria.

It was also discovered that GM foods illegally grown in Nigeria are unfit for human consumption as a result of pesticide overuse, a situation that stirred heated debate with the ban of food importation from Nigeria to European countries.

Market Survey

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015 stipulated a 270 days notification after publication in two national dailies that a GMOs crop would be seen in the market place,

After the notification, no independent research is required and If any studies are to be done, they would be funded by the respondent.

This has never been done despite the influx of GM foods in the market.

An on the spot assessement in major retails outlets in Abuja revealed that GM foods were neatly displayed in the shelves without labelling.

At the shops, a 50kg bag of Basmatic rice is sold for N28, 000 as against other imported rice sold for N18, 000 to N20, 000.

This is even as buyers lacked awareness on the difference between GM foods and non-foods as both types of foods were packaged and sold differently and in some cases, mixed together.

The GM fruits are usually very big compared to the conventional ones that their genes were not manipulated. This also applies to other foods like the Basmati rice that is longer and costlier than other rice varities in the market.

A fruit seller at Garki who identified himself as Ibrahim debunked claims that he sold GM foods adding that he didn’t  understand the meaning of GM, an indication that he was ignorant of the types of fruits he sold to buyers.

He sold each mango for N250 as against the non-GM mango sold between N50 to N70.

Another fruit seller at Central Area, Ibrahim Gwamna said that he preferred to sell imported fruits, which he described as buyers delight.

He sold the sweet grapes for N2000 as against the non-GM sweet grapes sold at N1000.

Briefly On GMOs

LEADERSHIP Newspaper learnt that the application of GMOs in agriculture started before recorded history as farmers had been selecting the most productive plants and seeds from their domesticated crops for more than 10,000 years.

However, in the last quarter of the 20th century, scientists began selecting productive traits at individual gene level and controlling the placement of genes in new crops.

Before genetic modification techniques, the only source for the discovery of drugs in treatment of illnesses were through   human cadavers.

Cadaver is a dead human body that may be used by physicians and other scientists to study anatomy, identify disease sites, determine causes of death, and provide tissue to repair a defect in a living human being.

Then, Gene-splicing technology entered the food industry in 1990 when the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) approved the safety of a new strain of GMO rennet.

Gene splicing is a process by which the DNA of an organism is cut and a gene, perhaps from another organism, is inserted. Its often used in industry to allow single-celled organisms to produce useful products, such as human insulin.

Rennet is used to curdle milk to form curds and whey, the raw material of cheese and other dairy products.

However, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had isolated the gene for making rennet from the stomach of a calf which was the previous source of the enzyme and inserted it into bacteria.

By 1995, fully 67 percent of the cheese produced in the U.S. was being made with rennet from GMOs.

In 1994, Monsanto also introduced a form of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) that was manufactured by genetically modified bacteria.

Through BGH, farmers could inject the hormone directly into dairy cattle to increase their milk production.

The next step in genetically modifying organisms for food was to increase from bacteria with thin cell walls to plants that have thick and tough cell walls.

According to the USDA, by 2008, 92 percent of the soybeans and 80 percent of corn planted in the U.S. were GMO varieties.

Health Implications Of GMOs

Given its health implications, several European Union countries have banned the importation of GMO crops.

This is however connected with the recent ban on importation of beans cultivated in Nigeria into European Unions countries due to hamful pesticides used in preserving the beans which contained GMOs.

According to the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), the risks on the consumption of GMOs are greater for children and newborns, just as pregnant mothers eating GM foods may endanger offspring.

The founder of IRT, Mr Jeffrey Smith noted that embryo development could adversely be affected by tiny amounts of substances in the mother’s diet.

He added, “A pregnant mother’s diet may even alter gene expression in children and be passed on to future generations”

“GM foods are more dangerous for children than adults as children are generally more susceptible to toxins, allergens and nutritional problems”.

“They consume more milk which may be from cows treated with rbGH”.

In a chat with LEADERSHIP Newspaper, the managing director of Global Prolife Alliance (GPA), a leading health, legal and environmental organisation, Prof. Philip C. Njemanze pointed out that over 80 million urban population may be eating GMOs on a regular basis ranging from simple foods like foreign apples and bananas to biscuits and soya products.

He lamented the rising use of Monsanto Glysophate pest controller called Roundup that has been linked with infertility, hormonal abnormalities, birth defects and cancer.

This he attributed to the ‘mysterious’ rise of autism in Nigeria adding that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among sub-Saharan African children with intellectual disability is about 0.7 percent more than three decades ago according to a research by International Society for Autism, Wiley on  ‘Autism spectrum disorder in sub‐saharan Africa’

According to him, “In an environment where corruption prevails, the biotechnology companies bribe officials to look the other way on crucial information on the health hazards of GMO crops”.

He maintained that the GM beans scheduled for market release in Nigeria causes cancer, liver disease and renal failure.

Njemanze hinted that despite several letters written to the Presidency, Federal Executive Council (FEC) and governors on the health hazards of GMO crops that they failed to respond.

“The rising rates of cancers, infertility and mental diseases and autistic spectrum disorders in children in Nigeria is related to the increasing use of Monsanto Roundup pesticide – Glysophate”.

“The pesticide when used kills weeds but spares GMO crops”.

The expert said that the European Environmental Protection Agency which intercepted beans from Nigeria exported into the EU noted that it has 400 times contamination with dangerous chemicals like dichlorovos which is above the threshold allowed for humans.

This he said was the reason why importation of food into the EU from Nigeria was banned adding that crops from Nigeria which showed one percent contamination with GMOs would earn a total ban in EU, Russia, USA, China and among others.

He stated that GMOs would contaminate the environment in Nigeria forever adding that small GMO crop plantation could cause a contamination ten times the entire Niger-Delta Oil Spills and would   never be cleaned off.

“This contamination of the environment with GMOs is harder to clean-up than Hiroshima atomic bomb effects on the environment”.

Njemanze who is also the managing director of medicine, Chidicon Medical and Diagnostic Centre Owerri revealed that European Food Safety Authority detected a 460 times above lethal limits of a very toxic cancerogenic pesticide known as dichlorvos.

He said that GM crops are engineered to be herbicide tolerant stressing that Monsanto Roundup Ready crops are designed to survive applications of the Roundup herbicide.

The expert hinted that in the United States between 1996 and 2008 that farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs.

He noted that overuse of herbicides creates superweeds that are resistant to GMOs that is harmful to the environment as GM foods contains higher residues of toxic herbicides.

How GM Foods Killed Animals, Humans

Given the dicey situation bordering on consumption of GM foods, scientists embarked on extensive research and  clinical trials to ascertain the safety of GM foods on animals and humans given that animals possesses same characteristics with humans.  It was discovered that rats fed with GM FlavrSavr tomato for 28 days died while some developed stomach bleeding though the tomato was approved despite unresolved safety questions by FDA scientists.

Rats fed with Monsanto’s Mon 863 Bt corn for 90 days showed significant changes in their blood cells, livers and kidneys, which might indicate diseases, just as mice fed with GM Bt potatoes had intestinal damage.

Reports from four villages in India revealed that about 25 percent of the sheeps that grazed in Bt cotton fields died within a week even as post mortem studies suggested a toxic reaction.

In 2003, approximately 100 people living next to a Bt cornfield in the Philippines developed skin, respiratory, intestinal reactions and other symptoms while the corn was shedding pollen.

The symptoms reappeared in 2004 in at least four other villages that planted the same corn variety while several animals that ate the corn died.

Also, more than 20 farmers in North America pointed out that pigs fed with GM corn varieties had low conception rates, false pregnancies or gave birth to bags of water.

Twelve dairy cows died on a farm in Hesse Germany, after the consumption of a diet prepared with significant amounts of a single GM corn variety, Bt 176 while other cows in the herd had to be killed due to some mysterious illness.

Though Syngenta, the producers of Bt 176, compensated the farmer for part of their losses but failed to claim responsibility for the cows deaths.

Also, female rats fed with Roundup Ready soy starting before conception and continuing through pregnancy and weaning, 55.6  percent of the offspring died within three weeks compared to 9 percent from non-GM soy controls.

Recall that in 1999 shortly after GM soy was imported into UK that soy allergies rose from 10 percent to 15 percent of the sampled population.

The death rate for chickens fed with Chardon LL GM corn for 42 days was 7 percent, compared to 3.5% for controls.

GM-fed chickens also had more erratic body weight and food intake, and less weight gain overall.

Added to this is that in 1980’s, a GM supplement, L-tryptophan created a deadly epidemic in the United States of America, a situation that led to the deaths of 100 people and caused 5,000-10,000 to fall sick.

Currently, the US government has banned the importation and consumption of GM foods.

 

 

Disagreement On GMOs Safety

The constant disagreement between leading environmental organisations and the NBMA on the safety of imported GM foods into Nigeria is worrisome.

While the former is worried about the health implications of GM foods, the later is optimistic that cultivation of GM foods would guarantee food security.

Njemanze declared the issuance of Food Safety Permits to Monsanto by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) as illegal.

While noting that the permit was issued on a public holiday, he pointed out that it constituted gross violations of extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

According to him, “The NBMA is not authorized under the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to certify foods as safe for release into the market under the NBMA Act 2015 but for procedural processes that involve methods of biotechnology not the safety of the food itself”.

Njemanze emphasised that food safety certifications whether GMOs or non-GMOs falls within the purview of the National Agency for Food, Drug and Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

He disclosed that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act of 1992 mandated that before approval for any activity likely to significantly affect the environment (including mandatory studies for Agricultural projects in Schedule 1) that the effect of such activity should first be considered.

“The state and local governments are also empowered to carry out their own impact assessment studies, hence, all permits issued by NBMA with regard to biosafety for the environment is null and void and of no effect”.

“The NBMA Act only requires 270 days after publication in two national dailies as notification that a GMOs crop would go to the market place, no independent research is required and If any studies are to be done, they will be funded by the respondent”.

He advised that African countries should follow the European model that has prevented the planting of GM corn and other GM crops, and not the US model.

The expert hinted that GM foods are unhealthy adding that the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urged doctors not to prescribe GMOs diets for patients.

He said that the doctors highlighted animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility.

Njemanze stated that the mixing of genes from totally unrelated species through genetic engineering is unleashing unpredictable side effects, including new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, nutritional deficiencies and possibly monster humans from birth defects.

“Monsanto scientific citations are junk science that cannot be trusted because  the so-called research on GMO yellow cassava shows it contains protein funded by Bill Gates (the main billionaire investor in Monsanto), was proven to be falsehood”.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation through BioCassava Plus Africa programme and cassava research funded the study at the Danforth Center in St Louis Missouri, USA”, he added.

He noted that till date that the BioCassava project is still distributing the yellow cassava seeds in Nigeria and peddling scientific lies.

The expert said though the Monsanto spokesperson stated that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved their GM crops that its an open secret that the FDA has serious public credibility problems on issues of biosafety of GMOs.

He revealed that the former minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, now President of the African Development Bank (ADB), was a director at the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) linked to Bill Gates foundation that is the main proponent of GMOs for Africa.

While disclosing that GM crops are harmful to the environment and natural ecosystem of plants and animals while their associated herbicides harmed birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms, he stated that it reduced bio-diversity, pollute water resources and are unsustainable.

“Roundup herbicides cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths, endocrine disruptions and organ damage in animals even at very low doses”, he said.

Explaining further, he stated that Bt Cotton was initially distributed free to farmers in India before the same cotton was sold for about 300 rupees, and 1200 rupees.

He noted that the cotton became very expensive for poor Indian farmers adding   that about 250,000 farmers who lost their cotton farms since they couldn’t afford the seeds committed suicide.

“A similar trend is now occurring in Burkina Faso, where the Bt Cotton introduced by Monsanto does not meet the accepted fibre length by international standards, so the farmers have lost hard currency revenue”, he said.

Njemanze emphasised that Nigeria’s population would be cut at will of foreign government who instructed biotechnology company to insert the gene for infertility in yellow cassava and yellow yam that are major staples for Nigerians.

He pointed out that the gene for infertility could be inserted in our foods just like the Talwar infertility fragment was inserted into tetanus vaccine according to court proceedings against international population control organizations in the Philippines.

“We the stakeholders warn of imminent class action suits against any biotechnology firm that introduces any foods or crops under NBMA issued licenses because the claims of damages would be more than their net worth”.

He called on Nigerians to be vigilance against GM foods, describing it as the greatest weapon of biological warfare in the hands of most vicious capitalist biotechnology companies.

The expert stated that despite alarm raised by World Health Organisation (WHO) that Nigeria’s population would trim down drastically with the continued consumption of GM foods , that federal government like most Nigerians lacked information on the harmful health effects of GMOs.

Njemanze who is also the managing director of medicine, Chidicon Medical and Diagnostic Centre Owerri indicated that the introduction of GMOs in Nigeria has killed the agroindustry.

Others however insisted that the introduction of GM crops and food into  Nigerian market would guarantee food security.

The President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Prince Ike Ubaka disclosed that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are not harmful but were introduced as a means of guaranteeing food security.

In an interview with LEADERSHIP Newspaper in Abuja, he kicked against speculations that mass cultivation of GMO’s would push conventional farmers out of the market adding that farming systems are not purely defined in Nigeria.

According to him, “The GMO’s should not scare us because it makes food more available but If there had been adverse effect of GMO’s, the white man that developed the technology would have campaigned to stop it but it has no adverse effect, rather it helps to make the food items more available, affordable and accessible.

While noting that three quarter of world population are considered below average, he emphasized that GMO’s produce higher yields than the traditional crops.

“The economics of farm productivity is that you will go to the field so that you can have bumper harvest which has a longer shelf life that will make a commanding price and presentation in the market.

He added, “Initially, we were planting our traditional maize by staggering, and then we discovered that the pollination of the maize was affected.

Ubaka noted that farmer’s platform is encouraging the training and re-training of farmers to enable them adopt modern approaches to agriculture adding that GMO’s would be beneficial to Nigerians just like the hybrid maize.

“It’s a challenge for the professionals to develop farming system that will enhance the productivity of the small scale farmers who have no skill and have been doing things constantly without access to training that affects their productivity, so this is why they remained within the range of economic existence.

He denied claims that GMO’s were yet to gain access to Nigerian markets saying that Nigerians started consuming GMO’s since the introduction and cultivation of hybrid maize in the country.

This is even as he listed some food items like Basmati rice, pounded brown wheat; cake and bread ingredients as GMO’s which he said were the outcome of biotechnology, tissue culture and genetical manipulations.

 

NBMAs Reaction

At a press briefing in Abuja recently, the  director General/CEO of the NBMA, Dr. Rufus Ebegba issued ultimatum to importers of GM Seeds to formalize their dealings or risk being shut down.

He pointed out that there is a current influx of illegal GM products in the country even as he enjoined dealers to obtain the necessary Biosafety permit , which he believed would allow the agency to carry out risk assessments on GM seeds.

Responding to questions raised by LEADERSHIP Newspaper, the Head of Press, NBMA, Gloria Ogbaki said that the duty of NBMA is to ensure that GM foods imported into the country is safe for  humans and the environment.

On death cases attributed to GM foods, she said, “I do not think there has been any scientific evidence to back up these claims” she concluded.

 

 

 





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