Protest Rocks Nigeria As FG Gives Nod To Health-Risk Artificial Crops

A severe backstage war against artificial crops is raging in Nigeria though politics has been occupying much of the media space in the country.

Some of the concerned civic society groups that are confronting the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari on the issue are insisting that the process of making and approving artificial crops presents enormous threat to human and environmental health.

But the Federal Government under Buhari’s watch does not seem to be giving this concern a deep thought. Irked by the administration’s seeming insensitivity, the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and a coalition of groups and farmers are denouncing the recent approval by the government for release of Btcowpea (beans) for cultivation in the country.

The protesting groups are therefore, demanding a rejection of the application for field trials of a cassava clone, harping on enormous threat to human and environmental health.

This past January 28, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) issued permits to the Institute of Agricultural Research, Zaria for the commercial release of a genetically modified cowpea said to be resistant to the Maruca vitratavirus.

In response to this, the coalition stated that the release of this genetically modified beans will contaminate indigenous varieties, place them at risk and expose our farmers and peoples to avoidable risks.

They made reference to study of pollinator characteristics of the natural West African wild cowpea populations which reveals that the Bt-gene will move from the genetically modified lines to non-modified lines of both cultivated and wild relatives, resulting to other plants gaining the resistance trait that will cause an alteration in ecological balance and present adverse effects.

According to them, ‘’it is worth nothing that this cowpea containing the transgene Cry1Ab, has not been approved for commercial use anywhere else in the world. Use of this Btgene was discontinued in South Africa where the cultivation of maize modified [with the gene] led to enormous pest resistance and infestation. Current research has revealed that protein produced by this transgene has toxic effects on human liver cells and induces alterations in immune systems of laboratory animals.’’

Adding, the coalition said the projection that this GM beans will increase yield by 20% above current levels is a paltry reason for exposing the nation to risks as the challenges of agriculture in Nigeria are complex and cannot be solved by one genetic engineering silver bullet.

For HOMEF Director, Nnimmo Bassey, ‘’it is clearly impossible to label genetically engineered beans and its products in Nigeria. Our socio-cultural setting makes it impossible to give Nigerians the right of choice through labeling of GMOs. This is one reason why the rush into GMO approvals is extremely perplexing. Where is the push coming from and why this reckless rush?

‘’Within just a couple of years of Nigeria having a GMO regulatory agency, all we see are permits and propaganda, while the task of protecting the Nigerian people and our environment is being forgotten due to the blatant incestuous relationship with developers, promoters and merchants of these risky technologies.’’

The protesting groups are calling on the Nigerian Seeds Council or the Varietal Release Committee not to endorse recommendations from NBMA as doing so will dash the hopes of Nigerian farmers to preserve natural varieties; expose consumers to unnecessary risks and place the nation on an irreversible road to ecological disaster.

They are equally condemning a new application for a genetically modified cassava which is engineered to yield more starch than normal, pointing out that the application seeks to address a non-existent problem and appears to be promoted by industrial starch producers or by speculators who see genetic engineering as a means of making profit and serving industry needs to the detriment of our lives and food system.

The groups also stated that Nigeria already has varieties of cassava which give sufficient starch and that the people are not complaining. They insisted that Nigeria must not be a test ground for dangerous food technologies as has already been recorded with a novel variety of cassava field-tested by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in 2018 (and which may already be in the environment) despite protests and objections.

The coalition has decried the flooding of the Nigerian market with illegally imported genetically modified food products (as revealed in a recent market survey by (HOMEF) and advised NBMA to invest time in regulating and protecting our foods and promoting biosafety rather than parading itself as a permitting or revenue generating agency.

They noted that the clamour by the Nigerian government officials for genetically modified food crops goes against the precautionary principle (a major principle of the Cartagena Protocol to which Nigeria is signatory) which advises governments to take precaution in the face of uncertainty of safety of GMOs in terms of human and environmental health.

The coalition advised that in place of the genetically engineered solution and modern agricultural biotechnology in general which requires a significant increase in input costs and could disrupt socio-ecosystems, Nigeria should instead focus on biological control as solution to pests invasion and augment with provision of needed infrastructure and other necessities such as credit schemes, access to land and extension services to farmers for enhanced productivity and food sovereignty.

They demanded that the National Biosafety Management Agency Act be critically reviewed to ensure that it protects the interests of the people, for example to include strict provision on Liability and Redress to ensure that present and future harms are accounted for.

Driving the protest are Nnimmo Bassey (Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation), Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour (Coordinator, GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance), Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje (Chairperson, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa), and Jackie Iketuonye (Country Representative, Bio-Integrity and Natural Food Awareness Initiative).

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