Sunday Magazine

Endless war against GMO foods

• We don’t have enough evidence to support adoption of GM crops –Professors
• Introduction of GMOs is selling Nigeria’s food security to foreigners, say experts
• GMO increases crop yield, safe for human consumption –Promoters
• FG adopting biotechnology to boost Nigeria’s agriculture –NABDA

 

There’s been an endless war against the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Nigerian food staples and its touted messianic roles. While the promoters argue its introduction would increase crop yield and guarantee food availability, experts in plant and animal husbandry as well as genetic engineering, insist that consumption of GMOs is toxic to blood cells, adrenalin, Spleen, causes kidney failure and damage to the Liver. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA and CALEB ONWE report

 

 

Scientific research into Genetically Modified (GM) foods has become popular among a section of scientists and international agencies in the recent time based on the assumption that there are inherent advantages derivable from their production and consumption.

 

Experts in field of agriculture and genetic engineering said the touted assumption is faulty as a whole generation of Nigerians and other Africans would be unable to have children, which will bring to an end the black people once called Africans, if Biosafety Act 2015 and the National Health Act 2014 are not revised to address the issue of GMO foods in the country.

 

Nevertheless, the promoters of GMOs in Nigeria point at certain advantages, which include the presumptions about the availability of food products with lower prices, greater potential in terms of shelf-life and higher nutritional value or both.

 

They hold that GMOs have the potential to bring direct benefit to farmers through improved crop protection, higher crop yield, higher resistance to environmental stresses and higher nutritional content. They argue that GM foods also boast of pest, cold, nutrient enhancement, economic gains, drought and salinity resistance.

 

According to experts, mainly professors in their respective professions, who researched into the GMOs with a view to determining to what extent the products could be said to be safe for consumption, the claim that biotechnological success is increasingly significant in a world where global food production is fraught with several challenges is faulty.

 

These pro and against arguments between foreign investors and government on one side, and Nigerian professionals on the other side, necessitated fierce war among these scientists, especially between Nigerian and foreign scientists, whose opinions differ on the usefulness of the GM foods.

 

Experts that are against the introduction of GMOs in Nigeria said the main issue driving anti-life agenda in Africa and around the world is the potential economic use of human ovarian eggs of for organ and tissue cloning by the biotech industries. At a Conference organised by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) in collaboration with the Barns Connect in Abuja recently to discuss genetically modified organisms (GMO) foods, Prof. Philip C. Njemanze released some alarming reports against GMOs.

 

The conference witnessed the presence of various stakeholders in Nigeria – Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies, NGOs, Farmers Associations, Seed Council, Civil Society groups, marketers, citizens, and press among others, and Njemanze who was the Guest Speaker.

Njemanze, who is the Chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Research and Training, Chidicon Medical Centre, Owerri, Imo State, and Chairman of the Global Prolife Alliance (GPA), presented certain scientific evidence from published peer-review literature on the health hazards of GMO foods.

 

An Academician of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and a leading international neuroscientist and a former Principal Investigator of the United States National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) Neurolab project to study the Brain in Space, he released the alarming evidence showing that the recently commercially released Monsanto Bt Cowpeas popularly known in Nigeria as Beans by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) represented at the meeting, causes cancer.

 

He noted that the genetically modified Bt Cowpeas incorporates a protein Cry1Ab which is a pesticide against pod borer (Maruca), saying that scientific evidence shows that the insecticide, and in this case, pesticide (Bt toxin), actually kill the person the same way it will kill the pest.

Njemanze dispelled the alleged lies of the biotechnology industry that using the GMO crops would reduce use of pesticides by farmers, saying on the contrary that data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) demonstrates that the use of GMO crops led to high rates of use of pesticides, because of the development of pesticide resistant weeds.

 

According to him, the Monsanto Roundup pesticide is freely sold in Nigeria as a weed killer, but the Roundup (also called Glyphosate) is a well established cause of cancer, according to the WHO.

 

“The Nigerian people would be the World’s experimental guinea pigs, in what until now, has been tried out in rats and mice in other countries. We need a probe into the work of the NBMA and other related agencies of the Federal Government, charged with the oversight functions.

 

“The entire population of Nigeria is subjected to a population-wide experiment because of an incompetent and inept Biosafety agency, acting in the interest of biotechnology companies against National Health Safety.

 

The works by scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences show how GMO foods shrink testis and cause infertility in men,” he warned. More so, he noted a work by American scientists published in the journal Interdiscip. Toxicol. 2013, volume 6(4): 159-186, showed that the Roundup pesticide used for GM crops were largely responsible for the growing incidence of Celiac Disease associated with intestinal indigestion, loss of blood (anemia), thyroid cancer, low sperm count and kidney disease.

 

A peep, according to him, into journal Ecosinform 1 (2006): 4–9, Scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences, revealed severe growth retardation in rats fed on GMO foods, saying that one out of every three Nigerian child born to a mother who was fed on GMO food would develop severe intrauterine growth retardation.

 

He continued that when the child continues on GMO foods, there could be severe mental deficits, including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactive disorders (ADHD), epilepsy and allergies, saying that the infant and child mortality in Nigeria will rise drastically if GMO foods such as Bt Cowpeas or beans are eaten by mothers regularly.

 

“In effect, the much touted benefits by the Gates Foundation that justified the BioCassava Plus Project Nigeria is a scientific hoax. Rather, the Foundation aimed at substituting Nigerian natural cassava with GMOs cassava made by their company, Monsanto of St Louis MO, USA, which will create dependency on this transgenic variant of Bill Gates cassava,” he added.

 

He summarised that without any enabling laws on genetic food bio-safety testing in Nigeria, the Gates Foundation, through some local actors, including the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigerian National Root Crop Research Institute, BioCassava Plus Nigeria, and international actors like Rockefeller Foundation, Cargill, AGRA, Syngenta, Bayer, and Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation (GAVI), have continued to unlawfully introduce the transgenic variants of cassava, rice, maize, yam, and sorghum to displace the natural food crops in Nigeria.

 

By the way, GMO foods are referred to as those organisms, whose genomes have been altered and denatured; an organism carrying a known sequence of recombinant DNA in its cells which passes the DNA onto its offspring, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Sunday Telegraph learnt that GM products are produced only when selected individual genes are transferred from a donor organism to a target organism.

 

This is sometimes referred to as Genetically Engineered Organisms or Transgenic Organisms. It was gathered that through genetic engineering, a genetically modified organism is formed.

 

GMOs may be plants, animals or microorganisms (bacteria, parasites and fungi) in which the genetic material has been altered by means of gene or cell technology, such that it does not occur naturally through fertilisation or natural recombination.

 

Corroborating him, one of Africa’s leading specialists in plant genetics at the University of Ouagadougou, Prof. Albert Zongo, warned African leaders that the distribution of the GMOs is creating dispersion of its genes into nature that reduced biodiversity.

 

He maintained that the evolution of any plant lies in the diversity of its species and when these varieties are lost, it becomes impossible for that plant to evolve, adding that the GMOs will mix with local varieties and change their natural structure.

 

“Similar remarks have been echoed by leading European plant geneticists, who recruited Prince Charles of the United Kingdom to lead the fight of Western Europeans against GMOs,” he added.

 

Sequel to this, the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) received some documents, which raised concerns about the safety and security of the Nigerian nation in respect of GMOs currently being introduced into the nation’s agricultural and other biotechnological spheres.

 

NIREC, as part of its mandate, which includes the promotion, not only of the peaceful co-existence of all followers of the religions of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria, but also of their safety and welfare, decided to put together a group of experts to look into the issues and advise the Council appropriately.

 

The experts that took part in this exercise included Prof. M.C. Asuzu (Chairman); Prof. Musa N. Borodo (Co-Chairman); Prof. Maurice Iwu; Prof. Labode Popoola; Prof. L.O. Sanni; Prof. A. A. Oladosu; Prof. Y. Saidu; Prof. Philip Njemanze; Nnimo Bassey; John De Campos; Dr. Modinah Abdul Raheem and Dr. (Mrs.) Modinah Abdul Raheem.

 

The experts concluded that on the basis of improving crop yield and quality of maize,  soy and cotton, it did not find enough evidence to support adoption of GM crops in Nigeria at the present time, saying that there is credible scientific evidence that demonstrates serious health concerns associated with GM crops.

Their findings reads in part: “Given the underdevelopment in the Nigerian health sector, these health risks will further stretch our health system, posing sizeable danger  among the very poor rural dwellers and farmers due to environmental and occupational health hazards from use of GM crops.

 

“The adoption of GM crops must be halted because of health concerns; and only a very careful and indigenously researched approach to it applied. There is not enough verifiable or incontrovertible evidence that biofortification would be of any major health benefit to poor rural Nigerians.

 

“The issues of thermal stability of Vitamin A and other trace elements make these benefits uncertain and may not warrant adoption of GM crops. “GMO farming is associated with mono cropping, decreasing crop yield over time and the possibility of foreign insertion of terminator genes in them, if any country depends on other countries or interest groups for the development and supply of such GMOs, among many such other liabilities.”

 

It added that the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) does not have enough equipment, laboratories, network of experts and funding for its work, saying that it has not policed the biotechnology industry enough for any opening of that sector of our national life to wide foreign interests as would now seem to be the growing case.

 

According to the Committee for Independent Information and Research on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), Paris, France, the consumption of Monsanto Maize MON 863 has been linked with hepatorenal toxicity with significant damage to the liver and kidney of rats subjected to feeding with the GMO maize.

 

According to the FDA memos by Carl Johnson to Linda Kahl in 1993, the FlavrSavr GMO tomatoes showed evidence of toxins, stating that out of 20 female rats fed with the GM tomato, seven developed stomach lesions.

 

The director of FDA‘s Office of Special Research Skills wrote that the tomatoes did not demonstrate a ―reasonable certainty of no harm, which is their normal standard of safety. Sunday Telegraph learnt that GMO tomatoes were pulled from the market in the United States and there is growing concern that these GM tomatoes have been relabeled as hybrid tomatoes and introduced in Nigeria. “There is a need, therefore, to verify these assertions by some groups.

 

The use of glyphosate has been linked to rising incidence of Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and about 13 million Nigerians suffer from Celiac disease (gluten intolerance),” said Prof. M.C. Asuzu. It is, according to him, a multifactorial disease associated with numerous nutritional deficiencies as well as reproductive issues and increased risk to thyroid disease, kidney failure and cancer.

 

He fingered a research conducted by the United States Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Programme, which insisted that no available transgenic varieties enhance the intrinsic yield of any crops, saying that the NABDA has so far functioned more as a GMO advocacy agency than a national development one.

 

“In this case, due balance to the two nature- respecting ways of biotechnology – as improved plant and animal breeding on the one hand and pro-biotic microbes biotechnology on the other – have not received the adequate attention that they deserve; as compared with their rather narrow and nature-manipulating GMO advocacy concentration.

“The potential for our vast arable lands for the two nature-supporting and naturepromoting methods of biotechnology in food production has not been reasonably explored or promoted to warrant the opening of our doors to these nature-manipulating one of the GMOs,” he added.

 

According to Association of Catholic Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (ACMPN) Owerri Archdiocese, Imo State, Branch, scientific works on GMOs in research institutes in Nigeria is largely at an infant stage, hence there is an acute lack of technical capacity in Nigeria to drive either the production or the assessment of GMO products as to safeguard our national interest.

 

The Association said the status of Yellow Cassava stems currently in the market for planting by farmers in Nigeria for over a decade is unknown, saying that nobody can say for certain whether the stems are of GMOs or hybrid.

 

It said: “The Director of The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), Mrs. Rose Maxwell Gidado from Adamawa State, declared on December 7, 2018, that OFAB has successfully lobbied the Nigerian government to adopt GMO Beans in Nigeria. “OFAB is the propaganda arm of biotechnology firms, including Monsanto owned by the American Multi-billionaire “philanthropist” Bill Gates.

 

Activists around the world have long expressed outrage at the conflicts of interest and outright corruption ring setup by the billionaire surrounding his business interests in Nigeria and across Africa.

 

“Even more bizarre suspicion is the linkage between Bill Gates, Monsanto and Blackwater that suggest a private army with machines of war. Nigeria is the largest cowpea (beans) producer in the world, followed by Brazil with an annual average production of 2.7 million metric tons over the last decade.

 

“Nigeria is also the largest importer of cowpea in the region. Niger, Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, Cameroon, Chad and Senegal are net exporters, while Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mauritania are net importers. “Small-scale farmers grow cowpea intercropped with maize, millet, sorghum, sugar cane and cotton.

 

The majority of the seed planted by farmers is sourced from onfarm seed saved from past harvests and not GMOs which leads to kidney failure, liver failure, cancer and conjoined twins among other side effects of the GM foods when consumed by Nigerians.

 

“ACMPN cautions all proponents of genetically modified foods (GMOs), MDAs, NGOs that assistance to foreign business entities to harm Nigerians because of commercial interests could be prosecuted as treasonable felony under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, the Director General of the NABDA, Professor Abdullahi Mustapha, who recently addressed staff of FCCPC during a sensitisation programme, noted that all the negative reports were being sponsored by ignorant activists, or those who were bent on frustrating genuine efforts by government and other stakeholders towards changing the fortunes of the country’s agriculture. Mustapha said even the concerns raised by some of the anti-GMO groups about allergy on genetically modified foods has not been scientifically proven, saying that GMOS are not only safe for human consumption, but also for the environment.

 

According to him, biotechnology provides a sure substitute to the use of large-scale insecticides, and pesticides, which have been established to have great adverse impact on the environment. Mustapha noted that the two GM crops that have been commercialised in Nigeria, include the Bt cowpea and Bt. cotton, and that both help to cut down the total amount of insecticides used.

“The concern about allergy as raised by sceptics has not been scientifically founded after all.

 

Some transgenic crops currently available in the world are maize, soybean, canola, cowpea, sugarcane and cotton”. More so, Country Coordinator of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Dr. Rose Gidado, said with the threat of climate change and its consequences of food insecurity, Nigeria cannot afford to let go of the benefits of biotechnology.

Sunday Telegraph gathered that OFAB, coordinated under the supervision of NABDA, has been in the forefront of the campaign for the adoption of GMO products in the country for many years. Gidado, who is also a Deputy Director in NABDA, noted that adoption of biotechnology in the country was good for the economy, as well as the wellbeing of citizens.

According to her, the bt. Cowpea alone has the capacity to add N48 billion annually to Nigeria’s economy, saying that in terms of agriculture, it will help the country in doing business, in transiting from subsistence farming that the farmers have been enslaved, to business farming as we are diversifying to agriculture.

 

She said: “For the BT cow-pea that has been developed, and we are marching towards commercialisation; we will have a very huge harvest and the profit from that and the yield increase is about 22 per cent. We will make and realise N48 billion from it annually. The gene of that BT cow-pea was transferred into our own local gene variety and the farmers preferred beans.”

Gidado noted that farmers, who are already taking advantage of the commercial release can attest to the fact that its high yield capacity is better than the conventional variety.

“This has been tested and the farmers we interacted with said the BT cowpea was planted at the same time with normal cowpea but the BT cowpea matured earlier. So, that is the advantage. Before, in the 1960s, output from agriculture used to be 65 per cent but now it’s one per cent.

 

So where are we going? And our population is increasing; we have natural challenges like desert encroachment in the North, gully erosion in the east, oil spillage in the south and flooding in the north.

 

How do we make our lands arable? “We need this technology so we can improve our agriculture. We can use this technology and develop micro-organisms to mop up the oil spillage in the south and make the lands arable.

 

With GM technology, you can plant on less land with less water and much harvest and then much yield”, she added. Also speaking, Alex Abutu, the Communications Officer of Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) said the misconceptions about GMOs were sponsored by activists, who refused to appreciate what Nigerian Scientists are doing.

 

It was learnt that AATF as one of the organisations promoting the activities of biotechnology in Nigeria, has taken its sensitization to different parts of the country.

Abutu explained that the breakthroughs recorded in biotechnology in the country can be attributed to the professionalism of scientists working in Nigeria’s research institutes. He said: “GMOs is still being misunderstood in Nigeria and Africa by activists who still do not want to appreciate the efforts of our national institutes.

 

Nigeria has over 18 agricultural Institutes that were established years back with the mandates to genetically improve our various crops. “Nigerian farmers are currently planting two GM crop varieties and you need to hear the testimonies from these farmers.

The Federal Government has since seen the importance of this technology and adopted it for the nation strategic agricultural development. The GM technology holds the key to Nigeria’s quest for food and nutritional security.”

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