The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the regulatory body for biotechnology in Nigeria, has issued two permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited for the commercial release and market placement of GMO (genetically modified Organism) cotton and the confined field trial of GMO (genetically engineered) maize.
According to Premium Times report, the two permits were signed by NBMA Director-General Rufus Ebegba on May 1, which happened to be a public holiday.
The permits were issued despite assurances from Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril, that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country.”
Organizations representing more than five million Nigerians had rejected adopting the GMO technique in agricultural products, including farmers, faith-based organizations, civil society groups, student and local community groups.
The coalition has previously expressed concerns about the human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops. They noted that Monsanto’s genetically enhanced crops are designed to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen (cancerous substances) by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March 2015.
Direct of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, whose group is among those at the front line of the resistance said in response to the development. He said:
“This is extremely shocking. Officials of NBMA, National Biotech Development Agency (NABDA) and their pro-GMO train have been fighting tooth and nail to fool Nigerians by claiming that GMOs are safe!
“They approved the poorly concocted applications and issued these permits on a Sunday when government offices do not open. In fact, 2nd May was also a public holiday.”
A Food Sovereignty Campaigner, Mariann Orovwuje, maintained that several main areas of concern had been identified regarding objections to the release (and placement in the market) of Genetically Modified Cotton and confined field trial of Maize in Nigeria. Hear her:
“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 NBMA objecting to Monsanto’s applications.”
Reasons Behind Group’s Objections To Monsanto’s GMO Application
- In the objection to Monsanto’s applications, the concerned Nigerians stated in its application MON 15985, that Monsanto was using genes referred to as cry2Ab2 and cry1Ac, which produce Bt toxins that have been synthetically manufactured with no history of safe use in nature.
- The insertion of the antibiotic resistant marker gene (ARMG) causes concerns regarding the potential transfer of antibiotic resistance to other living organisms, according to the groups.
- This concern, which was dismissed by the applicant, had been raised by a scientific panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating that this particular ARMG should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market – unfortunately this is what NBMA has released into the Nigerian market.
Reports say the groups also complained that there is no baseline data regarding the quantity, spread and use of cottonseed meal/cakes/oil used for human or animal consumption in Nigeria, and therefore no foundation for the assessment of food and feed safety.
“The agencies they consulted are in the business of promoting these toxic and risky GMOs in Nigeria. We do not also know which public NBMA consulted.”
Mr. Bassey insisted that the National Biosafety Management Agency, NBMA, Act of 2015 is defective because its governing board is filled with GMO promoters such as NABDA and the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria. He said:
“Those GMO promoters are concerned with ensuring the profit of biotech entrepreneurs rather than the health and environmental concerns of Nigerians,” he said.
“A case in point is that NABDA, a member of the Board of NBMA, is a co-sponsor with Monsanto of the application for the field trials of the GMO maize.
“We are also appalled that an agency saddled with defending Nigeria’s biodiversity is actively promoting these risky technologies.”
Following the intense outcry, Egbeba, the NBMA head, announced at a press conference that no GMO product has been officially released into the Nigerian market yet.
He said the agency will be assessing the potential impact of GMOs on human or animal health, the environment as well as its socio-economic impacts before its official release.
“The NBMA is poised to effectively regulate modern biotechnology for the benefit of Nigerians and to allay the fears of members of the public who so wish to consume GMOs in Nigeria,” the director-general said.
“It should be clear that no one would be forced to use or consume GMOs in Nigeria. GMOs would be labelled. The agency bases its decision on science, taking into consideration national interest, socio-economic issues, human health and safety to the environment.”
Egbeba, further dismissed safety concerns of GMOs, saying that “the controversy surrounding the food and feeds are quite germane.
“However, suffice it to say that till date, there is no reliable evidence that GM crops pose any health risk whatsoever. Recent FAO, World Health Organization (WHO) and other credible authorities attest to this. The public should therefore trust the agency’s decisions and avoid unscientific information and acts capable of causing public distrust and panic,” he said.