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Tribune Online
GMOs and issues of biodiversity, Nigeria’s readiness

There are strong proponents of GMOs in Nigeria that include government agencies and multinational interests. PAUL OMOROGBE brings excerpts of the views of experts who are not part of the GMO establishment. They have raised issues bordering on biodiversity, choice, and Nigeria’s socio-economic readiness to adopt GMOs.


For a number of years, in Nigeria there has been sustained campaign for the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods in the country.

Genetically modified food (or GM food) is food produced from plants or animals whose DNA has been altered through genetic engineering. More generally, GMO is an organism created in a laboratory by taking genes from one species and fixing them into species in order to achieve a new trait or characteristic that is not possible in nature. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans.

In Nigeria, the adoption of GMO crops has been championed by Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology.

So far, these organisations have achieved the approval of the cultivation of genetically modified BT cotton in 2015. Early in 2019, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) approved the commercialising of GM cowpea.

The two BT cotton species approved for release by the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Material are: MRC7377BG11 and MRC7361BG11.

In a December 2019 report, the acting Director-General of NABDA, Professor Alex Akpa, said: “…the registration of GM cotton is revolutionary to agricultural and textile development of Nigeria and can lead to future adoption of GM technology in the country.”

Monsanto is a leading producer of genetically engineered seed and Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide. Monsanto is noteworthy because it is the major sponsor of GMO research, campaign and lobby. It is an American publicly traded multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation.


GMOs already on our plates

Joyce Ebebeinwe, project officer at Health of Mother Earth Foundation at a December 2019 training for journalists on issues of biosafety, bordering on GMOs, other emerging technologies and their implications for Nigeria, shared a report titled ‘What’s on your plates.’ In it, she gave details of a market survey conducted on packaged GMO products in Nigeria. The survey was carried out in 10 cities across the country and revealed that over 30 different food products including cereals, vegetable oils, ice cream, noodles, chocolates and food spices in the market are produced with genetically modified constituents/genetic engineering. These products were seen to be mostly form China, USA, India and South Africa, and the genetically modified ingredients were mostly corn and soy.


The health concerns

One of Monsanto’s GM products, the patented glyphosate-resistant, Round-Up Ready soybean was approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1994. But in March 25, 2015, the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared glyphosate as a possible carcinogen, causing cancer to humans.

Scientists in Scotland in 1998 found damage to every single internal organ in rats fed with blight resistant GM potatoes. In a 2006 experiment, female rats fed with herbicide-resistant soybeans gave birth to severely stunted pups, of which half died within three weeks, according to Mark Anslow, an ecologist.

In May 2009 in a press release, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) said “Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid GM foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.” They also said, “GM foods pose a serious health risk.”


On crop yield

Advocates of GMO crops say its yields are higher.  But at a recent media workshop in Lagos on GMO foods, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Dr Nnimmo Bassey, noted that “The United Nations and World Bank-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) research recommended that nations must urgently revitalise public sector agricultural research, invest in smallholder-farmer oriented, low-input agroecology farming system and reform trade-related rules.”

According to HOMEF boss, the report was dismissive of the potential of GM crops to benefit the world’s poor, neither did it endorse GMOs as a solution to world hunger.

Dr Peter Ebabhamiegbebho of Animal Science Department, University of Benin, at a dialogue on food and farming systems in April 2019, stated “We have produced enough food but studies have shown that about 40 to 50 per cent of food produced is lost post-harvest due to lack of storage facilities and good roads to access markets.”


The biosafety issue

Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, chair of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) pointed out that GMOs will foster corporate control of food systems, destroy biological diversity, lead to an irreversible contamination of indigenous seed varieties and loss of local knowledge.

Bassey-Orovwuje added that there are better approaches to agricultural problems such as agroecology which enriches ecosystems, increases productivity, promotes local knowledge and cools the planet.

A publication, Gene Drive Organisms – An introduction to a dangerous new technology putting Africans at risk, by ETC Group, expatiates on what is called “gene drive organism (GDO).” GDOs called exterminator technology by critics are created by genetically engineering a living organism and then modifying the sexual system of reproduction to force modified genes into future generations so it spreads through the whole population. Unlike earlier biotechnology inventions, GDOs threaten to take the process of genetic engineering from something intended to be contained in a laboratory to a process that deliberately spreads those engineered changes throughout the environment. Should this be technically effective, the consequences are completely unknown and could be devastating to ecosystems, agriculture and other life support systems.

The publication points out dangers and impacts of GDOs. When it comes to biodiversity, it adds that “GDOs are designed to spread and intentionally impact entire ecosystems. They are likely to become invasive in wild populations and could create mutations. Eradicating one species might unpredictably open space for another species which may carry diseases, affect pollination or otherwise threaten biodiversity. Forced extinction is incompatible with conservation.”


Countries’ response to GMOs

Daramfon Bassey and Yeside Dipo-Salami are with Clean Tech Hub Nigeria. In their policy note on GMOs in Nigeria, they found that “in the United States, at least 90 per cent of the soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets sold have been genetically modified. In 2016, over 70 million hectares of GMO crops was cultivated in the US making the country the largest market for GMO globally. Brazil was the second largest market for GMO globally with over 45 million hectares of GMO grown in the country, followed by Argentina (over 23 million hectares), Canada (over 11 million hectares) and India (over 10 million hectares) completing the top five GMOs markets globally.”

However, they note that in Europe labelling of GMO products is a law.

According to them, “In Europe, European Union legislation requires GMO products to be labeled, unless the GMO presence is less than 0.9 per cent of the product, if it is accidental or technically inevitable. GMO corn is being cultivated in five European member states namely: Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.”

They also cite resistances to the adoption of GMOs in Europe. “In 2015, majority of the countries in the European Union, including Germany, France, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales taking advantage of the European Union rule permitting member states to opt out of growing genetically modified crops have banned their farmers from cultivating GMO.”

It adds that “Asides from Argentina and Brazil, countries such as Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay allow the cultivation of GMO crops while Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru have banned GMOs.

India has restricted GM technology to non-edible crops like cotton, attempts to introduce GM aubergine and mustard has been blocked by public litigation and provincial governments. Japan only allows the cultivation of GM flowers. Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan and Saudi Arabia have banned the cultivation of GMO crops.

In Africa, genetically modified crops are currently only grown commercially in South Africa, Egypt and Sudan. Ghana remains sceptical about transgenic foods. While in Tanzania the government recently ordered  the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute to discontinue the unauthorised usage of drought tolerant maize crops.


When the choice is taken away

A key issue when it comes to the adoption of GMOs or not is the ability of individuals to make their choice. Environmentalists argue that with the way GMOs are being introduced, the man of the street will not have any choice to consume food they are comfortable with, be it GMOs or organic food.

Nnimmo Bassey of HOMEF at recent media workshop on GMOs explained that in countries were GMO foods were being sold they were properly labelled, therefore buyers had a choice whether to purchase GMOs or go for organic food.

He however, argued that if GMO beans is introduced to farmers, is cultivated and sold open in the open market, how would it be labelled for people to choose? When the beans is processed into akara (bean cakes), how would it be labelled so that people can make a choice to buy GMO akara or organic akara in the market?

Bassey said that the way Nigerians produce and market food does not allow for appropriate labelling.”If you can’t have the choice then we don’t need GMOs in Nigeria,” he said.”We need to consider our socio-economic factors when making laws.”


Free Prior and Informed Consent

Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a specific right that applies to indigenous peoples and local communities and is recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) It allows them to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories. Once they have given their consent. they can withdraw it at any stage. Furthermore, FPIC enables them to negotiate the conditions under which the project will be designed,implemented, monitored and evaluated. This is also embedded within the universal right to self-determination

The ETC Group noted in their publication on GDOs quoted earlier, that FPIC“is a potentially powerful tool for communities, but has been ignored or manipulated far too often. For example, proponents of projects often conflate consultation with consent, claiming that because they met with some members of a community, they have consent. It is also often the case that projects will hand-pick or manipulate certain members of the community into giving consent, but not include everyone in a free and fully informed process. Sadly, this common pattern appears to be repeating itself with GDOs in Africa.”

GMOs and issues of biodiversity, Nigeria’s readiness
Tribune Online

source https://tribuneonlineng.com/gmos-and-issues-of-biodiversity-nigerias-readiness/

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