Activists Say No To Genetically Modified Crops

By Abiose Adelaja Adams

As the National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA, expressed its intention to move more quickly for the passing of the National Biosafety Bill into law, activists from various civil society organizations have kicked against it, saying the process has not included inputs from scientists, consumer right organizations, Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, farmers and the general public.

Speaking at a rally in Lagos, the lead speaker for the group, Nnimmo Bassey, said the move to enact the law has not been transparent and has excluded key stakeholders.

“The road towards making a Nigerian Biosafety law has been one bedevilled by hide-and-seek tactics. It has not been a transparent road,” he said.

Bassey, who is the founder of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, recalls that “the notice of the Public Hearing of 2009 was so short that one could not expect critical participants like farmers and community groups to adequately prepare and submit their memoranda.”

According to him, farmers, civil society and community groups were given only about a minute to present their views at the public hearing, while pro-biotech agencies had all the time to lecture the gathering on the benefits of genetically modified organisms, GMOs.

Expressing disappointment, he said “It is worrisome that leaders who should protect our environment, agriculture and general patrimony are at the forefront of promoting and plotting to ambush Nigerians into accepting a technology that portends more harm than good.”

Nigeria signed and ratified an international treaty known as Cartagena Protocol on Bio Safety in 2000 and 2003 respectively after which  the Ministry of Environment developed a National Biosafety Bill in collaboration with NABDA, Nigeria Custom Service, Nigeria Veterinary Research Institute and the federal ministries of Justice, Health, Agriculture and Rural Development, Science and Technology, Foreign Affairs and Education, with the intention of domesticating the Protocol.

The bill when passed into law will provide a framework to ensure that the development and use of genetically modified organisms and products do not negatively affect plant, animal and human health, agricultural systems or the environment.

Advocates of GMOs also believe that it will solve climate crisis by creating plants that are climate resistant and it will also increase agricultural yield. In addition, the bill will also back the importation and exportation of these GMOs into and out of the country.

But the civil society groups, which also include Consumer Rights Organization and Environmental Rights Action, ERA, have raised salient concerns about government’s true motives.

“We are not saying technology is not good. What we are saying is not all technology is good for humans. They are best at the laboratory level, says Lanre Oginni of Consumer Rights Organization.

“GMOs are not for humans, it is against the law of God. How can you take the gene of maize and marry it with that of an orange. It Is against the law of nature that says every creature should reproduce after its species,” he posited.

Bassey believes that the motive of passing the bill is for greedy gains and not to genuinely solve the so-called food challenge.

“The promoters of modern agricultural biotechnology are desperate  to open up Nigeria and African environment for their products for profit making rather than benevolence.”

Both Bassey and Oginni strongly believe that the policy makers are funded by Mosanto, a biotechnology corporation, to bring GMO products into Nigeria.

“Africa is the last frontier for the biotech businesses and Nigeria is their biggest single untapped market on the continent,” said Bassey.

Monsanto, a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation based in the United States, is the world’s leading producer of Roundup, a herbicide with the active ingredient glyphosate, which scientists say is capable of causing cancer.

For example, a laboratory study in human cells shows that very low levels of glyphosate mimicked the hormone estrogen and stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells.

Opposing the argument that GMOs increase agricultural yields, Bassey disproved it quoting the findings of Hans Herren, a scientist who worked 27 years in Africa as director General of International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and Director of the Plant Health Division at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA.

“Local research has developed and disseminated successful sustainable technologies that have not only increased the yields by 200 to 300 per cent (dwarfing the expected 25 per cent) – as proven in the case of maize, or permanently controlled pest such as the cassava mealy bug with natural methods across the continent but also continuously adapted them to new local challenges, including climate change,” the environmentalist stated.

Further quoting Herren, he said that the challenge in Africa is that “public agricultural research continues to be stifled by low funding.”

Bassey  urged the government and Nigerian scientists embrace the task of charting a path for and investing in sustainable agro-ecological agriculture that builds on local knowledge and crop varieties instead of promoting shortcuts being sold to the world by philanthropic capitalists.

A genetically modified organism, GMO, is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.

Nigeria is involved in two approved genetic modification research of two staple food crops – cowpea otherwise known as beans, and cassava.

Both researches are currently undergoing confined trials at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University ABU, Zaria, and the National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike, Imo State.

The principal investigator of the cowpea research posits that a pest called Maruca causes great losses in beans.  Seventy per cent of farmers produce beans, which is also the largest export cash crop in Nigeria.

Thus, producing modified strains will fix the challenge of Maruca.  Most GMOs have their genetic composition modified to resist certain herbicides produced by the seed companies or modified to kill target pests – the crops becoming pesticides themselves. But the emergence of superweeds that have become resistant to GM insecticide producing crops, show that GMOs may not be worth it after all.

“We urge those who think that modern biotechnology is the solution to the food challenges in Nigeria and elsewhere to take a look at the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, IAASTD, report of 2008,” said Bassey.

The report titled “Agriculture At A Crossroads” written by about 400 scientists and experts and endorsed by 58 countries on the day of its adoption clearly shows that the place of modern biotechnology in future food delivery is indeed very slim. The Bio Safety Bill was initially passed by the 6th National Assembly in 2011 but the President did not assent to it. It was re-presented and read for the first time in this 7th Senate in May 2014.






     

     

    It has equally passed through the second reading in the House of Representatives and has been committed to the committee of the whole.

    The civil society groups opposed to the new law said that they, along with nearly 300 global scientists who signed a statement to the effect, “believe that since there is no scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods this in itself should be enough reason to evoke the precautionary principle.”

    Whilst saying that they will not stand idly and see Nigerians turned into guinea pigs without their consent, Oginni warns Nigerians to read labelling on packaged food before consumption.

    He warned that some packaged food sold in big stores are GMOs or contain these ingredients. “We found some infant formula contains genetically modified organisms, while some are not labelled, he said.

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