Worried over the seeming influx and unregulated importation of genetically modified foods and crops into Africa and most particularly Nigeria, various stakeholders consisting non-governmental organisations, media and lawyers converged in the city of Abuja to call for a review of the Nigeria Biosafety Management Laws. LEADERSHIP Friday Editor, Ruth Tene Natsa summarises the various issues raised by the various interest groups also being named anti GMO fighters.
Wikipedia defines Biosafety as the prevention of large-scale loss of biological integrity, focusing both on ecology and human health. It states that these prevention mechanisms include conduction of regular reviews of the biosafety in laboratory settings, as well as strict guidelines to follow. Biosafety is used to protect from harmful incidents.
Presenting a paper titled: ‘GMOs, the Implications and the Deficit of Public Participation in Permitting Processes in Nigeria,’ Prof Tatfeng Mirabeau of the Department of Sciences from Niger Delta University said Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) which are often used interchangeably refer to organisms (ie plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods. Some examples are rice, soy beans, maize, cassava etc.
The Prof said genetic modification or engineering of food could be done by using micro-organisms to transfer the genetic material or by directly introducing the gene of interest in the plant, all these with the aim of improving quality, yield, or developing resistance to pest.
He noted that while genetic engineering had found useful applications in several fields of human endeavours including Medical sciences, Research, Textile Industries, Biowarfare and Agriculture, the pro GMO presents GMO as a means to economic emancipation and a solution to famine, the Anti underlines the health hazards, development of super-weed and pests, as means to make rich richer at the detriment of the poor. However, behind the scene, multibillion-dollar deals are signed by capitalistic societies who serve as hosts to these biotech companies.
He said many others have argued against the adoption and release of GMO for human consumption underlining the health hazards, development of super-weed and pests and also as a means of making the rich richer at the detriment of the poor.
It is therefore no wonder that Groups on the platform of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) have called for an urgent review of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), 2015 Act in order, to preserve biosafety in Nigeria.
Speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP Friday, the director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) Nnimo Bassey and the chairperson, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), Mariann Bassey, said, “At a recent HOMEF dialogue with farmers, most of the participants declared that they had never heard of anything called genetically modified organisms (GMOs). When they got to know what GMOs are, they all declared that genetically modified crops are bad for our agriculture and overall environment.
The environmental activists noted, “Despite huge financial outlays in modern agricultural biotechnology roadshows, the people remain unaware of these commercially and politically driven organisms that are rapidly being released into our markets and environment.
“Without free and clear knowledge of these artificial organisms, it can be said plainly that the right of our people to safe food and safe environment is being officially breached with crass impunity”
“As we speak, the promises of the first-generation GMOs that are being promoted in Nigeria are unraveling – with persistent failures being recorded around the world. Herbicide use has increased rather than reduced – of course, the makers of the GMO seeds make the toxic chemicals. Pesticide use has not waned even though crops (crops inserted with gene from the organism, Bacterium thuringiensis) are essentially engineered to act as pesticides themselves,” they said
They maintained that farmers are trapped in debt in the cotton fields of India because of the seed-chemicals trap traceable to GMO Shylocks. GMO infested South American countries are reeling from chemical poisons on farmworkers and in farm-fence communities. In the United States of America, Monsanto (a major biotechnology company now owned by Bayer) was ordered to pay $289m in damages to Dewayne Johnson after a jury found that the company’s Roundup weed-killer caused him cancer. There are over 4000 similar cases in the USA. The safety of GMOs and the claim that GMOs yield higher than normal crops have not been proven.
The duo further alleged that old GMOs are now being joined by more extreme variants known as Gene Drives that target whole populations, involve gene editing and do not involve cross-species gene transfers. They pose special and unique dangers to Nigeria and Africa.
“The first danger is that our regulators are gullible and tend to be remotely controlled by forces that promote untested technologies. The second danger is that even the dangers and risks are known, they are happy to allow experimentations and expose our people, communities and environment to be used as guinea pigs”
We need to interrogate not just the technology but also the regulation of the technologies. We need to ask why an application from a company like WACOT Ltd was approved when the only backing document, as published on NBMA’s website was a sheet of paper showing varieties of genetically modified maize approved by some European countries.
The Groups reiterated their calls for review of the NBMA laws stating “. Nigerians should not be used as pawns and guinea pigs, in a commercial gambit to open the country to toxic technologies in furtherance of blatant commercial interest”.
The anti GMO fighters argued that a faulty regulatory apparatus perpetually in bed with promoters of modern agricultural biotechnology has no chance of ensuring sufficient safeguards for the people and the environment. “NBMA approves nearly every application brought to it without due consideration of the impact of proposed activities or concerns raised by the public”
“A glaring case of concern is the approval of importation of GM maize by WACOT Ltd just a few weeks after the company had tried to smuggle the crops in, it stated. Adding that the law was blatantly disregarded in this case as it requires that a minimum of 270days be given before any application is approved to allow for proper impact assessment”, saying a faulty regulatory apparatus perpetually in bed with promoters of modern agricultural biotechnology has no chance of ensuring sufficient safeguards for the people and the environment.
“We believe there are a lot of things done outside the law in regards to the regulation of the sector and that also the law itself needs to be critically reviewed and lawyers are the best set of professionals who can help introduce the process of both rectifying and being watchdogs to ensure that the law is implemented in relationship to international covenants and rules”
Stating some of the laws that had been bridged, Mr Bassey noted that in terms of biosafety one of the critical principles is that there must be free prior informed consent of people before the release of anything into the environment.
Right now majority of Nigerians do not know anything about genetic engineering, so anything you do in the context where people are ignorant or something that will affect their ecology, Biosafety is in principle a bridge of international standards.
Biosafety is built around precautionary principle, which means when there is a doubt, do not proceed. Now, virtually all the GMOs being brought for field trial or commercial release are not developed in Nigeria and the ones that are being imported for feed and human consumption do not have the certainty that they are properly tested.
He maintained that the argument that Africa needs GMOs in order to feed her population is nothing but a commercial narrative that on scrutiny holds no water. Adding that for more than two decades that GMOs have been around they have not halted the upward ruse of hunger in the world.
Speaking on alternatives for GMOs, Adeola Olugbenga of the University of Ibadan argued that many of the challenges of agriculture are based on misuse of agro-ecologies. She maintained that these can be addressed through the use of modern agro principles including Crop rotations, Agroforestry systems Crop rotations, Poly cultures: Cropping systems and Agroforestry systems among others.
The first danger is that our regulators are gullible and tend to be remotely controlled by forces that promote untested technologies. The second danger is that even the dangers and risks are known, they are happy to allow experimentations and expose our people…
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