The illegal shipment of GMO maize into Nigeria -By Greg Odogwu

Filed under: Brand Matters,Forgotten Dairies |

 

The National Biosafety Management Agency recently revealed that two shipments of genetically modified maize worth millions of dollars were discovered at a seaport in Lagos. The Director-General of NBMA, Rufus Ebegba, said a vessel arrived at the ENL Terminal at the Lagos port with 25,750 metric tons of genetically modified maize worth an estimated $3.7m. Another vessel arrived at the same terminal two days later carrying 42,900 metric tons of maize valued at $6.1m.

This is very troubling news considering the fact that our borders are not watertight, and so we can be sure that a lot of other of such illegal consignments may have already crossed. Meanwhile, it is interesting that the DG of NBMA is the one to raise the alarm over this illegal shipment. At the onset, he was enthusiastic in granting applications for GMO companies to carry out field trials in Nigeria. One therefore hopes that he has learnt his lessons. The GMO is a globally controversial sector. If the Nigerian regulators fail in their job, we could be overrun by unscrupulous GMO business interests.

According to Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty Campaigner, “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 the NBMA objecting to Monsanto’s applications.”

The global resistance against the Genetically Modified Crops is growing at an exponential rate. A few years ago, one would almost be ridiculed for suggesting that the GM foods could be a problem, but now scientists and researchers are presenting information that has 19 new countries in Europe joining an already long list of nations to completely ban, or have severe restrictions on, GMOs – as well as the pesticides that go with them. In my opinion, the GMO businesses that are affected by the ban in these 19 countries will naturally look for “weak” countries, and rush to dump their already manufactured GMO products in them.

The GMO crops have had their DNA artificially altered, which is a process that would not happen in nature. This is done by introducing genes from a completely different species in order to boost the plant’s resistance to pests or herbicides, or create some other desired effect.

Again, we are talking about 19 countries. That is more than half of the countries within the European Union, some of which include Germany, France, Scotland, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Poland, and Belgium. The magnitude of this resistance cannot be ignored. So, one may ask, why are these countries doing this? Two of the main reasons have to do with environmental and health-related concerns. But according to Reuters, alongside all of these troubles, some countries simply want to take time to do proper research – flying in the face of the World Health Organisation’s decree that the GMOs are completely safe. There are many who disagree with this assertion.

Our own biosafety agency, instead of working in cahoots with GMO companies, should be engaged in more research to ascertain the relevance and usefulness of the GMO to the Nigerian citizenry. These regulators should be able to come up with research based answers to questions like; can our agricultural sector grow without the GMO? Is our ecosystem amenable to organic food? What is level of combination of these factors that would ensure food security in Nigeria?

We can learn from other nations. Here is what Irina Ermakova, VP of Russia’s National Association for Genetic Safety, said last year when Russia was mulling over the decision to ban GMOs: “It is necessary to ban GMOs, to impose moratorium (on) it for 10 years. While GMOs will be prohibited, we can plan experiments, tests, or maybe even new methods of research could be developed. It has been proved that not only in Russia, but also in many other countries in the world, the GMOs are dangerous. Methods of obtaining the GMOs are not perfect, therefore, at this stage, all the GMOs are dangerous. Consumption and use of the GMOs obtained in such a way can lead to tumours, cancers and obesity among animals. Bio-technologies certainly should be developed, but the GMOs should be stopped…. [We] should stop it from spreading.”

It is understandable that Nigeria is going through troubled times, with many problems on its plate. We would therefore be more troubled to discover an illegally imported cache of arms and ammunition than a consignment of GMO foods. However, it is my view that we should set our priorities clearly; toxic food is as lethal as firearms. In fact, during World War 2, one of the strategies adopted by the Third Reich to annihilate its enemies was tagged the Hunger Plan. Therefore, we should see the illegal shipment of GMO food into the country in the same vista we view insurgency.

A Nigerian environmental advocacy organisation, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, expressed concern over the development, saying it could indicate that Nigeria regularly imports unauthorised foods that go undetected. “Nigerians should be alarmed at these incidents because whoever imported these illegal shipments may have done so due to the preponderant attitude of government that Nigeria is open to GMOs and that there is nothing to worry about GMOs (genetically modified organisms). This is an indication that more GMO foods and products may have slipped into the country undetected” said Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF.

The organisation has been advocating for a ban on all GMOs in Nigeria. According to HOMEF, Nigerian farmers can provide enough food for the whole country if they are supported with extension services, processing and storage facilities and adequate infrastructure. It then urged the Nigeria Customs Service to impound the illegal shipments and called on the NBMA to conduct market audits in order to ensure that foods with genetically modified traits are not smuggled into the country.

Also troubling is another recent development where the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture teamed up with ETHZ laboratories of Zurich, Switzerland, to apply to carry out confined field trial in Nigeria of cassava genetically modified to “obtain storage roots with lower post-harvest physiological degradation after harvest without any loss of the nutritious starch.”

IITA’s application is to conduct “confined” field trials of the cassava genetically modified using a new gene silencing technology that has never been tested before. In fact, the IITA admits that such an approval has not been given for this GMO cassava anywhere in any “jurisdiction” in the world. The IITA claimed that this cassava would not be used for domestic consumption, but would be used for biofuel. However, even if the IITA presents the Frankenstein cassava as a crop for the production of biofuel and not food, there is no way to stop our farmers from planting the GMO cassava for food.

The irony of this situation is that a whole of lot of arable land would be converted to cultivating food crops for biofuels instead of human consumption. This is why HOMEF, AFSA and many other organisations objected to the application for confined trials of the novel cassava GMO and demanded that the National Biosafety Management Agency should throw out the application and advise them to carry out the test in Switzerland where it was developed. To me, the NBMA is an agency funded by tax payers, and should therefore be driven by patriotism. It should engage in more research in order to determine what shall benefit the ordinary Nigerian, and not corporate interests.

 

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