With increasing focus on agriculture as a means of reducing hunger and ensuring food security, some are looking up to the use of modern technology to enhance food production.
Ruth Tene Natsa writes on the recent outcry against Nigeria’s National Biotech Development Agency over its recent approval of genetically – modified maize and cottons.
Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) have been defined as organisms, 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. The technology is often called modern biotechnology or gene technology or genetic engineering.
It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. Foods produced from or using GMO are often called GMO foods.
The cry against the genetic mutations of foods has been on the increase with environmentalists, farmers, religious bodies and lawmakers under various platforms decrying the sojourn of the nation into the use of GMOs.
While Health of Mother Earth(HOREM) and Friends of the Earth among several others have led the campaign against the introduction and use of genetics, the regulatory body for biotechnology in Nigeria, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) is alleged to have issued two permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited for the commercial release and market placement of genetically- modified cotton and the confined field trial of GMO maize.
The two permits posted on NBMA website and signed by the director-general of NBMA, Mr Rufus Ebegba,led to the outcry as the campaigners argued that besides signing the permit on Sunday, May 1, 2016, which was a public holiday, it also showed a total disregard to the many observations raised by the campaigners that GMOs spell huge risks to Nigerians.
The two permits are entitled: “Permit for Commercial Release/ Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) Genetically Modified for Lepidopteran Insect Pest Resistance with permit number: 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 number: NBMA/C FT/001.
Reacting to the development HOMEF director , Nnimmo Bassey, 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 May 2, was also a public holiday.”
Also speaking Food Sovereignty campaigner, Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, noted that “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 amongst 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.”
But most recently are the summations of academician and chairman, Global Prolife Alliance( GPA), a leading health, legal and environmental expert, Prof. Dr Philip Njemanze, who said the rejection of the organisms could be identified under “Ten Reasons Why Nigeria Must Not Adopt GMOs Foods – Response to Monsanto.”
He alleged that the “The issuance of food safety permits to Monsanto is Illegal, for the obvious reasons that the transaction was unofficial and occurred under shoddy circumstances, but even more seriously, that they constitute gross violations of extant laws in Nigeria. The NBMA is not authorised under the laws of Nigeria to certify foods as safe for release into the market under the NBMA Act 2015.”
He further added that the National Biosafety Agency Act 2015 was unconstitutional and very defective as it breaches the fundamental precautionary principles of a regulatory body which includes independence and right to appeal decisions. Further alleging that GMOs crops would not increase yield potential and hence not solve the food crisis as published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability Volume 12, Issue 1, 2014 by Jack Heinemann et al., a professor of genetics at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand
He went further to say that GMO foods were unhealthy and studies showed how GMOs foods could leave genetic material inside the human body causing long-term damage. Genes inserted into GMO soy, maize, yellow cassava (provitamin), yellow yam, tomatoes deceptively called hybrid could transfer into DNA,bacteria in the gut.
It added that GMOs would contaminate the environment in Nigeria forever as GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds could travel tens to hundreds of miles away.
The GPA went further to argue that GMO foods illegally grown in Nigeria were unfit for human consumption because of the pesticide use and could create monster humans because of gene mixtures.
“The mixing of genes from totally unrelated species through genetic engineering is unleashing unpredictable side effects, including new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, nutritional deficiencies and possibly monster humans from birth defects,” he argued.
He also alleged that Monsanto scientific citations were junk science that could not be trusted as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through BioCassava Plus Africa programme and cassava research funded the study at the Danforth Center in St Louis Missouri, USA., had through a paper published at the website of the journal PLoS One said, “The Committee on Research Integrity at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has carried out an institutional investigation which revealed that significant amounts of data and supporting documentation that were claimed to be produced by the first author could not be found.”
Given that the validity of the results could not be verified He alleged that while “The Monsanto spokesperson cites the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as approving their GMOs crops,he did not reveal the background.”