Experts fault proposed field trial of genetically modified cassava
• Biosafety agency denies sanctioning any test
Experts have condemned an alleged move by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, (IITA) and Zurich, Switzerland-based ETHZ Laboratories to carry out confined field trial of genetically modified cassava in Nigeria.
They alleged that the application, submitted by both agencies to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) was a subtle way of flooding the country’s food system with genetic food crops, including beans, maize and cotton.
According to them, the IITA and the Swiss firm were contemplating genetically modified cassava by obtaining storage roots with lower post- harvest physiological degradation post-harvest without any loss of starch.
The institute had hinted of conducting a test with a novel gene-silencing technology.
The Director of Home of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, said going the way of genetically modified organism (GMO) by the IITA portends a great danger since most farmers depend on it for quality and safe crops.
His words: “If NBMA goes ahead to approve the application, we can say goodbye to food safety in Nigeria. We do not need GMO cassava. We don’t need GMOs here, and we call on the agency to do the needful.”
He continued: “If IITA presents Frankenstein cassava as a crop for production of biofuel and not food, there is no way to stop our farmers from planting that cassava stem for food in the country.”
The Chairperson of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Mariann B. Orovwuje, argued that elevating genetically modified (GM) crops for biofuels demonstrates the pretence of biotech giants, which argue that they are necessary for food production to feed the population.
To the Convener of Nigerians against GMO, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, if IITA was tired of serving the needs of Nigerians and Africans, it could take its business elsewhere, querying: “How can we ever trust them any longer with this dangerous path they are embarking on?”
Reacting, the Director General of NBMA, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, submitted: “We will look at the details and this will determine our action, and it would be based on verifiable scientific evidence. We urge people to work with the agency to promote safety.”
He clarified that his agency had not granted any permits for such venture, adding that “we are constituting committees to look at the application, and their outcome will determine whether it would be considered or not. We have placed advertisements to this effect.”
Ebegba reassured Nigerians that science and technology were drivers of change and that whatever was safe “is what we in the agency would allow into our environment. We are given a mandate to promote culture of safety in the country.”