Outrage as biosafety agency okays Monsanto’s GMOs
Stakeholders insist on local research before approval
Despite the promise of the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country ,” and opposition from other stakeholders, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has begun moves to introduce Genetically Modified (GMO) cotton and maize into the country’s foods and farming system.
The Guardian learnt that the NBMA has issued two permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. One is for the commercial release and placing on market of genetically modified cotton and the other for the confined field trial of maize.
The two permits have been posted on NBMA website. They were signed by the Director-General of NBMA, Mr. Rufus Ebegba on May 1, 2016 (a public holiday) and issued to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. The first is entitled: “Permit for Commercial release/ Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) genetically modified for lepidopteran insect pest resistance” with Permit No: NBMA/CM/IM/001. The second is entitled: “Permit for Confined Field Trial (CFT) of maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603) genetically modified for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance” with Permit No: NBMA/C FT/001.
Monsanto Company is a publicly traded American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Greater St. Louis, Missouri, United States. It is a leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed and roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide. Monsanto’s role in agricultural changes, biotechnology products, and lobbying of government agencies, along with its history as a chemical company has made the company controversial.
Concerned Nigerians made up of 100 groups comprising farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local farmers are urging the Federal Government not to introduce GMO crops now and even if this should be done in the future, it must be after an extensive local research on its safety.
Also, scientists have urged caution before setting the GM bugs loose in an effort to make malaria and Zika-carrying mosquitoes a thing of the past.
An expert panel in the United States (U.S.) concluded that tweaking the Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material of insects to stop them spreading devastating viruses such as malaria and Zika holds great promise, but more research is needed before the techniques can be used in the real world.
Reacting to the development, Director of Mother Health Foundation (MHF), Nnimmo Bassey, in a statement said: “This is extremely shocking. Little wonder officials of NBMA, National Biotech Development Agency (NABDA) and their pro-GMO train have been fighting tooth and nail to fool Nigerians by claiming that GMOs are safe! They approved the poorly concocted applications and issued these permits on a Sunday when government offices do not open. In fact, 2nd May was also a public holiday.” MHF is one of the groups in the front line of the resistance.
Also, Food Sovereignty Manager/Coordinator, Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN) and FoE International, Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, in a statement, said: “Several main areas of concern had been identified regarding objections to the release (and placement in the market) of GM cotton and confined field trial of maize in Nigeria. There are serious concerns and they include among many: health concerns, environmental concerns, socio-economic concerns, technical and administrative concerns, molecular concerns, safety assessments, environment risk assessment, secondary pests and insect resistance and many more concerns have been extensively laid out in our submissions to NBMA objecting to Monsanto’s applications.”
In the objection to Monsanto’s applications, the concerned Nigerians stated that in its application MON 15985, Monsanto is using genes referred to as cry2Ab2 and cry1Ac, which produce Bt toxins that have been synthetically manufactured with no history of safe use in nature. The insertion of the Antibiotic Resistant Marker Gene (ARMG) causes concerns regarding the potential transfer of antibiotic resistance to other living organisms. This concern, which is dismissed by the applicant, has been raised by a scientific panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating that this particular ARMG should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market – unfortunately this is what NBMA has released into the Nigerian market.
A professor of pharmacognosy and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bioresources Development Group (BDG), Maurice Iwu, told The Guardian: “ “The implication of this action is grave.”
Iwu who was also a Senior Research Associate of the Division of Experimental Therapeutics of Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, U.S., said: “I was alarmed to hear that, I hope it is a rumour and not true. What is the basis of rushing into GMOs? We have an agriculture system that is still primitive, that people are not yet maximising.
“GMOs are still being investigated in those countries that have to use them for totally different reasons, for economic purposes. Tell me, which Nigerian is going to benefit economically from GMO? The answer is none. The seeds would be imported and we would now rely on them.
“For me it is a self-recruited slavery, somebody recruiting himself into slavery. It does not make sense to me. All those claims they have made about GMOs are all false, the increase yield and all the confusing of the GM crops with improved varieties of crops of natural crops; they are not the same at all… I am not saying we won’t have GMOs forever, but am saying we wait and let the studies be completed before we can release them for mass consumption.”
On the health implications of the plans to introduce GMO crops in Nigeria, Iwu said: “So the issue is that the health implications are quite serious and they are being brushed aside to say it cannot be and they have researches to show they are safe. Again how do you interpret the research? I keep making the case of when everybody was celebrating Dolly the Sheep. It was a research of N equals to 1, only one case. But we celebrated it as such. So the same thing can happen if we look at how many cases of deleterious effects of GMOs.
“We should not just brush it aside and say ‘it only happened in Malaysia, Rwanda, or in one place or the other.’ That is not enough, you have to really come home and do proper studies. Crops are not as sedentary as people who make it, when you make it here, it affects your neighbour’s farm.”
Meanwhile, Bassey and Orovwuje in a joint statement said: “NBMA approved Monsanto’s proposal for Bt cotton despite the fact that on the 14th of April, 2016, our neighbours, Burkina-Faso’s cabinet announced their goal to reduce the acreage for genetically modified cotton this season until it’s completely phased out in 2018 and replaced by conventional cotton. They reached that decision because GMO cotton yielded shorter fibres and they were thus suffering economic losses.
“NBMA approved the glysophate herbicide resistant maize despite the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report that linked the active ingredient glyphosate to cancer. The IARC is part of the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is no surprise that nations like Sri Lanka, among others, heeded and took action by banning Monsanto’s round up herbicide because of its link to kidney disease.
References used in support of claims made by Monsanto are too old and none referred to the two GM maize events specifically but are general references for normal maize research. This may be due to the lack of thorough scientific peer-reviewed research carried out in support of the claims made in the application, or is a deliberate effort at hiding information. We note that no details of feeding studies whatsoever were provided by the applicant.”