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Outrage as biosafety agency okays Monsanto’s GMOs

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GMO maize. PHOTO: euobserver.com

GMO maize. PHOTO: euobserver.com

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.”


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45 Comments
  • Bako

    Let the government keep watching as reckless people destroy the population. We without any scientific base want to tread (safely?) where highly scientific nations refuse to tread! This is wickedness. Why is it that France came for massive buying of cattle in Cameroon to go and replace their own? This recklessness to make millions of dollars on the population must stop. We need responsible government administrators.

  • This is kinda dangerous. An “experiment” that already failed in neighbouring Burkina Faso is being allowed to commence in Nigeria. Of important note is that the Burkinabe “experiment” dealt solely with cotton; a cash crop. But Mr. Rufus Ebeagba is granting Mossanto the licence to produce food crops. The Burkinabes lost money, but Nigeria is going to loose lifes. I wonder which is preferable?

    Genetically modified foods has been a global controversy. One that still generates a lot of misgivings wherever GMO is mentioned. Nations across the world worry about the health risks versus the economic viability of such products. Many of these nations are at the forefront of cotton edge technology, if there would happen to be an emergency arising from the introduction of GMOs, these nations have capacities to overcome the emergency. But they still either sit on the sidelines or reject GMOs outrightly. So why is Mr. Rufus Ebeagba in a hurry to issue licences for controversial if not outright dangerous products with confirmed history of failure? And he did that on a Sunday? A public holiday.

    The ministers of health, agriculture and environment should please immediately call Mr. Ebeagba to retract and nullify that licence. The risk is collective and we are not yet prepared to handle it.

    • Jay

      Bt cotton was comercially released in burkina in 2008, with more than 300,000 smallholder farmers cultivating it. Before now, burkina is celebrated as an example of how GM crops can help poor farmers. Have we all forgotten?
      Ethiopian air began operations in 1946 and had there 1st and 2nd crashes in 1960 and 1961 respectively. Today they are the 3rd Africa based carrier.
      If they were shut down then would they attain this height?

      • Celebrated for a couple of years, rejected for eternity. Is that your mark of success? Don’t ever compare an airline to a food crop. There’s no correlation between the two.

      • Celebrated for a couple of years, rejected for eternity. Is that your mark of success? Don’t ever compare an airline to a food crop. There’s no correlation between the two. The risks GMO crops entail beggars serious consideration.

        • Jay

          Cash crop you mean

        • Jay

          Thats a shallow saying. How do you think the worlds growing population will be clothed and fed?

  • Obaeze

    Where is the NLC? Let them come out and protest this… Not to wait until Govt. increase fuel prices only…

    • Taiwo Umolu

      Thank you my brother. Do you think those noisy solidarity forever singing individuals in NLC even understand what is at stake? They appear to be a bunch of ignorant people

  • Jay

    Please can anyone share a confirmed case of GM health hazard…

    • Cele

      Do you really think we should get rid of biodiversity and create a monopolised breed of corn owned and patented by a multinational company with headquarters in the US? I don’t even want to go into the health hazards of such a practice.

      • Jay

        We really should stop the speculation and present facts

        • Cele

          Absolutely! However, this is isn’t speculation, but fact. 95% of India’s cotton seeds is controlled by Monsanto, and it genetically modified. This is common knowledge, as well as the subject of several research on the effects of GMO on farming in India.

          • Jay

            So i ask are indian farmers dying from growing GMs?

          • Cele

            Circumstantially, yes! They have no rights to keep and replant some of their seeds, so they keep borrowing money to buy expensive seeds. When the returns are not enough to pay off their debt, most just commit suicide. I would advice you read more about these issues.

          • Jay

            I would also advice you broaden your knowledge on gmo’s, hybrids and opv’s. Seeds will always be seeds and good seeds dont come cheap. Also on that of indian farmers read more about it.

          • Cele

            I read all the time, and will continue to do so. Knowledge is essential to growth, and no one wants to be stagnant. As I evolve, I may reassess my opinions on GMOs, with the exception of the idea that a company like Monsanto should be allowed to dominate the Nigerian market.

      • Jay

        I think we should take it slow and have a good understanding of what GMOs are. Do you truly think organic farming would feed and cloth the rising population? If so why are more and more companies developing there biotechnology? The future is not far, we will all come to embrace it at a certain point.

        • Cele

          Granted that organic farming is insufficient, I would rather the government be responsible for any GM alternatives and not some greedy multinational corp. The power of the stomach is far more powerful than any other, and anyone who controls the food source holds an enormous power.

          Also, the methods and chemical impact of GM farming on the environments are very well documented, and I can assure that the results are not pretty. Hence the need for government intervention and funding, rather than a sole market /for-profit driven enterprise.

          Finally, we must protect farmers right to own and replant their seedlings. This part is very crucial to our survival. We can’t allow a patented seed, no matter how high yielding, to drive local ones to extinction, only for us to realise we no longer own our seeds. Farmers in US who buy Monsanto seeds are not allowed to store or replant seedlings. In fact, there is a particular case in which a farm that had been in a family for generations went bankrupt because they got sued by Monsanto for keeping and replanting seeds.

          It isn’t just about GM, its also about preserving whatever rights we still have left.

  • amador kester

    A pathologically corrupt society must expect this type of health terminator from its public officials who will easily fall for extensive lobbying mechanisms of monsanto billionaires without qualms. Europe took steps to stop this toxic nonsense and pseudo science from reaching its shores, and even in africa ghana labour unions and people protested against this potentially monumental public health hazard months ago but dont be surprised our labour unions might equally have been lobbied like our high public officials . It is most dangerous to live in a fantastically corrupt society

  • Chuks

    I have just read the announcement from NBMA and what i read does not show any of the two crops being commercialized yet. What has been approved is that they be tested and researched for safety, environmental assessment , health safety and the rest. If our local agriculture research institutes like IAR, NCRI and NRCRI are currently researching on ABS Sorghum, BT.Cowpea, Bio-Cassava Plus and NEWEST Rice respectively. Why stop NBMA from doing their jobs. If after the research and tests they find it not fitting for Nigeria then they let us know. We should let them do their job and not be driven by sentiments and stories that have no prove.

  • Cele

    Go to India and ask the local and rural farmers what these GMO and Monsanto practices have done to them. Many have committed suicides as a result of Monsanto. My people are never patriotic enough to save their own lives, always selling out for little kickbacks. Before long, farmers will be going bankrupt because they will no longer have the right to store seeds for the following seasons, and will be compelled to always buy from Monsanto every year. Ask even some farmers in the US that have lost their farms to Monsanto. God have mercy on us all.

  • Andy

    This further proves that this government is up to no good for this country.

  • swash

    Iwu is right. We need to carry out an extensive research on the crop in Nigeria. I know GMO crops have been banned in some countries in Europe and Asia. Why do we like to toy with our lives? Capitalism cajoles one into perilous activities. If the GMO maize and cotton were not thoroughly examined in Nigeria before import approval, uhmmm! We are in for a serious problem. We could be consuming poison; Not with our low income levels and poor medical facilities. GMO crops have been found to also cause genetic mutations ( deformities) esp in unborn children. And what do you expect from a crop whose genetic composition has been scientifically altered to enhance productivity. I don’t see much difference between toxic pesticides and poorly screened GMOs. The health implications are very severe. And yes the article could be right. If they would be imported, crop yields may be sold at a high price. Can’t we just use our native crops for health reasons?

    • Chuks

      Hello Swash, please do not get the approval wrong. No GMO crop is in the country. They only approved to have CFT- Confined Field Trials for the maize and Multi-location trials for the cotton. These are all research work. Its not different from the CFT going on on cowpea at IAR, Zaria . These are all for research reasons to ascertain if they will be used in accepted commercially or not.

      • swash

        K. Had better be. You know this has to do with life and death. I would prefer organic agricultural techniques. If we are planning to undertake a field trial, that is a good step it’s now left to our research centres to come up with authentic findings. I don’t know if we could trust their reports because we know how corrupt our institutions are. Knowing some countries have imposed a ban on its cultivation, it will be good if we carry out a rigorous research or maybe we accept only the cotton seeds? If there would be an unexpected detrimental implication, it would be from cotton or what do you think? Are you a scientist or a biochemist?

        • Chuks

          I understand your concerns, and i am sure that is why the agency has not open their hands wide to accept the technology and are ready to do their part to ensure the needed findings , safety check and health check are done to make sure Nigerians are safe. I am an agriculturist and all i want is better life for the farmers and by extension out economy as a whole. It might interest you to know our local research centers are also working on their own biotech crops. Cowpea, sorghum, rice and cassava are all under research and trials across Nigeria.As regards the efficiency of the agencies They are all we have we need to do our part by asking they keep communicating their findings to the public per time to make sure the agencies do their work well.

          • swash

            K.

        • Oluwole

          You should have faith in our agricultural research institutes and Nigerian scientists to conduct thorough evaluation trials with the farmers having the final say on whether GMO cotton or maize should be commercialized in the country. Arm-chair critics with an agenda are a mere distraction to the process.

        • Oluwole

          You must believe in our agricultural research institutions and our scientist to carry out thorough evaluation trials with Nigerian farmers having a final say in the process as against arm-chair critics with an agenda

  • swash

    Well, cotton is not food in Nigeria. It is mainly used in the textile industry. I’m only worried about the maize in their import list. Maybe the yields will be sold to multinational food processing companies in Nigeria converted to corn flakes, canned corns and several other cereal packages. So these GMO seeds may may not be sold to poor farmers but to large plantation owners whose target customers will be potential food processing companies that can buy the harvest. And what do we feed our infant babies with? What types of food do the upper class citizens go for for body toning? What do most of us eat early in the morning as a quick breakfast menu? The government had better know what they are embarking. This is about life and death.

    • Oluwole

      That is another false statement by anti GMO activists. Cotton seed oil derived from Bt Cotton is consumed in Burkina Faso and India without any adverse effect on the health and safety of people. 95% of maize produced in South Africa is GM maize and all imported soya bean consumed in Nigeria are also GM products. GM crops have been adjudged safe by the World Health Organisation, Food Agricultural Organisation, US Federal Department of Agriculture, and several other regulatory bodies across the world. Nigeria cannot be an exception and must embrace agricultural biotechnology to feed her growing population and also to improve the lives and income of resource poor farmers

  • honesty NO1

    Mr Egba how much did you charge Monsanto for this favor? You granted the license when the country was on public HOLIDAY ! ! ! ! ! I dont care if the lisence was for a research pupose its a DEATH WARRANT FOR a fantastically corrupt country where anything goes

  • Prince

    NLC TUC The time is now to protest this silent killer called GMO

    • Oluwole

      Why are you trying to incite NUC and TUC to protest on a non labour issue? When did labour unions start agitation on agricultural biotechnology? You are just being mischievous on a subject matter that you know little or nothing about.

  • Gyanendra Shukla

    I read the article and find so much misleading information…some facts for readers….1) Nigeria’s competent authorities have given the permission to do the trials under local condition for the technologies that have proven to be safe and beneficial in many countries from all the respects. Trials means experiments for local suitability not commercialization.
    2) Safety of Biotech products & Glyphosate have been proven by all reputed regulatory authorities around the world.
    3) By not depriving the access to modern tool we basically would deny them affordable & abundant food, forcing people to continue to face hardship of farming and depriving them of education to improve their life.

    • Mary

      Thank you so much for seeking to help us and for providing the clarification. But pray tell, why are countries phasing our GMOs. If it was so healthy and so beneficial, why is any country (particularly countries that previously accepted it,) rejecting it now? You know, if I have learnt anything from following the unraveling drama with the LGBT movement and all the sex-change advocates, it is that new research is not necessarily true nor factual. People have been known to falsify the figures (go figure the numbers that were used to justify the argument for legalising abortion in many countries, including the US). So please if you will be kind enough to please answer the question, I would like you to clarify, whether there is indeed a link between the active ingredient of GMO and cancer? If yes, I would also appreciate a response on why you think that notwithstanding this risk, it is okay to introduce it into our country, clinical trials or not.

      • swash

        That is also my worry. Fake results resulting in adverse health problems or genuine results but with high degree of uncertainty over unknown side effects that can arise in the future from its consumption. I’m very confused at the moment. The supporters say it’s to solve food insecurity and pest control. Right now, I don’t know if it should be embraced or not. The company has received a lot of criticisms in the past that is true so It’s hard to believe Nigeria will have a different story to tell. Besides, GMO crop science is under serious international debate. I’m torn between the two parties.

    • Mary

      Thank you so much for seeking to help us and for providing the clarification. But pray tell, why are countries phasing our GMOs. If it was so healthy and so beneficial, why is any country (particularly countries that previously accepted it,) rejecting it now? You know, if I have learnt anything from following the unraveling drama with the LGBT movement and all the sex-change advocates, it is that new research is not necessarily true nor factual. People have been known to falsify the figures (go figure the numbers that were used to justify the argument for legalising abortion in many countries, including the US). So please if you will be kind enough to please answer the question, I would like you to clarify, whether there is indeed a link between the active ingredient of GMO and cancer? If yes, I would also appreciate a response on why you think that notwithstanding this risk, it is okay to introduce it into our country, clinical trials or not.

  • Chuks

    2 years ago the same Prof Iwu stated above said and i quote “The bill is not just for agric purposes but also to preserve our lives,” Iwu said.He vigorously supported the the passage of the biotech bill. We need to question his credibility on this matter

  • Oluwole

    Prof Iwu at the Senate Public Hearing on Biosafety Bill 2 years ago

    – “the market for genetic materials alone, which is just one of the many aspects of biotechnology, was worth over $500 billion globally. Iwu also said that the setting up of a facility to counter biological problems such as the notorious Ebola Virus Diseases (EVD) within a country would only be possible with a bio-safety bill in place. “The bill is not just for agric purposes but also to preserve our lives,”
    Prof Iwu, If we may ask, what led to the sudden U-turn?

  • Mary

    If I didn’t think that it was too far fetched and too much of a conspiracy theory, I would think that there is a plot to systematically reduce the population of our country and at the same time, impoverish us. I worry, for we are a country whose health system is on the brink of collapse and yet we are introducing a product that people elsewhere are rejecting because of the health hazards. Maybe NLC is not the way to go, maybe we all need to stop looking for messiahs and start thinking of what each of us, in conjunction with friends and family can do to halt the continuation of this dangerous policy. I do believe that if we all, wrote to our representatives at the National Assembly (i.e. the House of Reps and the Senate) the sheer magnitude of the letters may spur them into taking action. Maybe pass a law banning the introduction of GMOs into Nigeria. Agreed, it sounds like a drastic measure, but maybe that is just what we need. Complaining and creating awareness about the issue is great, but positive action, no matter how small, such as the letter writing is better. And why not, while we are it, consider instituting an action in court to challenge the propriety of the approval on the grounds of public policy and possibly the danger it poses to our collective constitutional right to life.

  • Mary

    If I didn’t think that it was too far fetched and too much of a conspiracy theory, I would think that there is a plot to systematically reduce the population of our country and at the same time, impoverish us. I worry, for we are a country whose health system is on the brink of collapse and yet we are introducing a product that people elsewhere are rejecting because of the health hazards. Maybe NLC is not the way to go, maybe we all need to stop looking for messiahs and start thinking of what each of us, in conjunction with friends and family can do to halt the continuation of this dangerous policy. I do believe that if we all, wrote to our representatives at the National Assembly (i.e. the House of Reps and the Senate) the sheer magnitude of the letters may spur them into taking action. Maybe pass a law banning the introduction of GMOs into Nigeria. Agreed, it sounds like a drastic measure, but maybe that is just what we need. Complaining and creating awareness about the issue is great, but positive action, no matter how small, such as the letter writing is better. And why not, while we are it, consider instituting an action in court to challenge the propriety of the approval on the grounds of public policy and possibly the danger it poses to our collective constitutional right to life.

  • seyi

    We don’t need Genetically modified foods. Period. We don’t have the technical ability or manpower to handle the issues that are bound to arise from consuming genetically modified foods. We have been following a lemon bought 53 days ago from a supermarket.. follow the lemon @freshtodommot or instagram at freshtodommot. That’s the reality

  • Obotunde

    My heart sink for my people and country Nigeria, after hearing this news. Mr. Rufus Ebegba has mortgage the health and life of Nigerians for whatever only God knows.