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Why approval of GMO crops requires thorough research

By Joke Falaju, Abuja
20 June 2017   |   2:53 am
Despite assurances by the government that Nigeria is yet to adopt the Genetically Modified (GMO) Crop technology for its food production, activists have described the passage of the Nigerian Biosafety Management Act...

Experts are of the opinion that the country must not base its opinion on GMO safety on information given to them by the same companies trying to sell these products as opposed to independent study.

Despite assurances by the government that Nigeria is yet to adopt the Genetically Modified (GMO) Crop technology for its food production, activists have described the passage of the Nigerian Biosafety Management Act (NBMA) at the twilight of last administration as a modest way of commercialising the crop in the country without giving Nigerians the chance to choose what they feed on. They believe that the NBMA Act 2015 does not only permit the free flow of GMO, it also encourages the trial, commercial release and trans-border movement of the products in the country.

Experts are of the opinion that the country must not base its opinion on GMO safety on information given to them by the same companies trying to sell these products as opposed to independent study.

While the Heart of the Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has called on the government to repeal the NBMA Act, maintaining that the Act was instituted to promote the commercialisation of GMO foods in the country, the Director General Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegha disagrees declaring the call for repeal of the Act as frivolous and unpatriotic.

Such request, Ebegha argued, would be tantamount to opening of the floodgate, thus subjecting Nigeria to unrestricted importation and production of unregulated modern biotechnology products, emphasizing that it was intended to render 20 indigenous research institutes, universities, agencies and private concerns that have competence in the sector stagnated and redundant in a global sphere that is fast moving towards safe modern biotechnological advancement.

Indeed, argument for and against GMO, as a global discussion, has been on for the past 37 years and experts are of the opinion that for the argument to have consistently dragged for a long period of time, GMO technology ought to have been discarded, while scientists are charged to design a new way forward. This line of thought is supported by the realisation that some developed countries often treated the subject matter as an act of terrorism, while only Canada and America have adopted the technology out of the eight industrialized countries known as G8.

Recently, Monsanto Tribunal comprising Five International judges presented in The Hague their legal opinion and after six months of analyzing the testimonies of more than 30 witnesses, lawyers and experts, it has been discovered that  “Monsanto’s practices undermine basic human rights and the right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health.” The judges, therefore, called for better protective regulations for victims of multinational corporations and concluded that international law should clearly assert the protection of the environment and ecocide as a crime.

The Monsanto Tribunal found that Monsanto’s activities undermine basic human rights and Monsanto’s conduct has seriously undermined the right to freedom indispensable for scientific research.

Though not yet proven, scientific observations have shown that Nigerians have been getting increasingly sicker over the past few decades as a result of the consumption of technology based foods that have not been scientifically investigated. They observed that chronic or terminal diseases are on the increase, with children coming down with diseases that in the past did not arise until much later in life.

A molecular geneticist from Oxford University, Dr. Ify Aniebo while explaining the production process of the GM crop, pointed out that the process of inserting genes into the DNA of food plant is random therefore scientists have no idea where the genes go. It disrupts the functioning of other genes, creating proteins that have never been in the food supply that could create toxins and allergens in food.

According to her, there are no safety assessment standards for GMOs, as regulatory systems for GM foods worldwide vary from voluntary industry self-regulation in the US to weak in Europe, which are inadequate to protect consumer’s health.

Of a truth scientific findings have shown that Rats fed with GM potatoes, started developing smaller livers, hearts, testicles and brains, damaged immune systems and are more vulnerable to infection and diseases after 10days. They also developed stomach and intestines cells proliferation that could be a sign of greater future risk of cancer, compared to other rats fed with non-GMO potatoes. The 10-days cycle of the rat could be compared to the 10 years in human beings.

Aniebo went further to state that effects of GMO consumption take a very long period of time to show and so it would be difficult to trace the source of any ailment to the crop. Refuting the controversial experiment about the GM food that “GMOs are safe and no one has ever been made ill by a GM Food,” she argued that there are no scientific evidence to support the claim and no epidemiological studies to look at GM food effects on the general population have ever been conducted.

She further said that another study of Monsanto’s high-lysine corn showed it contained toxins and other potentially harmful substances that may retard growth and when the product is cooked, it produces toxins associated with Alzheimer’s, diabetes, allergies, kidney disease, cancer and aging symptoms.

Scientists have also discovered that 15 years after Argentines have been consuming GMO food, their children after eating so much genetically engineered soy beans began to develop breasts from the estrogenic effects and there were increased detection of cancers in children and adults as well as toxic liver disease, and neurological disorders. Also young people started coming down with cancer, miscarriages, and difficulty in becoming pregnant, including acute allergies and more new-borns began to suffer from diseases from birth.

Indeed, with plans to commercialise Marouka-resistant cowpea (beans) developed through GMO technology by 2018, there is the need for an independent and rigorous scientific investigation into genetically modified crops and the government must invest in independent science research that underscores the health and welfare of Nigerian citizens.

To further justify why Nigerian government should look into the consumption of GMO food, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, at a media training on Biosafety, said Nigerians must not utilize a technology based on unproven or mythic promises. Nigerians, he insisted, must not use a technology simply because it exists or because we can acquire it, arguing further that domesticating a technology, such as modern agricultural biotechnology, make its utility inevitable.

According to him, nations shy away from utilising the technology that produces atomic bombs merely for lack of access to the technology and reasons of safety and survival of humankind. He stated that the fundamental way to ensure safe, nutritious food was through the promotion and support of food sovereignty.  Food sovereignty is the right of people, and it is the critically right of people to define their own food and agriculture system allows communities to control the way food is produced, traded and eaten.

Bassey said, “We understand that the best food security can be attained through food sovereignty as any other understanding of food security leaves open the gates for dumping of inappropriate foods and products with the singular end of filling hungry mouths and stomachs. It essentially erodes a people’s sovereignty and promotes food colonialism.”

The biosafety law, he explained, is not only permissive in favour of the biotech industry, but is adversarial or against public interest illustrated by the fact that the Act only requires NBMA to hold public consultations at its discretion. It is believed that public consultations on plans to release genetically modified organisms should be a legal and binding requirement and not left to the whims of the Agency.

Reference is made to Section 25(2) of the Act which allows NBMA to decide whether to advertise applications to introduce GMOs in national or local newspaper, arguing that the ‘public enlightenment’ events held by promoters and regulators of biosafety in Nigeria has been a circus suggesting that people are misinformed about the risks that GMOs pose.

“What our people need is accurate information from all sides of the issues so that they can make informed decisions and demand for or reject risky technologies. Assurances that NBMA will not allow dangerous GMOs into Nigeria are nothing but mere platitudes if the claims are not backed by open, neutral and unstilted adjudications,” he stated.

HOMEF convener further argued that the setting where NBMA has the Nigeria Agriculture Biotechnology Development Agency, one of the promoters of the risky technology and also applicants that have benefited from the very first application to have come before the Agency as a board member is not good enough and should be questioned.

He said “We wish to be advised if such a construct does not obstruct avenues for justice, fairness, probity and equity in our collective struggle for a food regime that ensures that we are not turned into guinea pigs by those pushing to colonise our food systems and expose us to avoidable risks and also as we engage in our dialogue, let us all keep in mind that this matter has implications that is intergenerational and lapses have consequences for Nigerians yet unborn.

“Laws are not cast in concrete. The right to safe and nutritious food is a universal right. GMOs challenge that right with its creation of novel organisms, dependence on toxic chemicals and abridgement of the rights of farmers to preserve and share seeds and to stay free from contamination by genetically engineered seeds,” he added.

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