A non-governmental organisation has warned the Nigerian government against the proposed introduction of commercialised genetically modified crops (GMO) into the food system of the country.
Nigeria officially signed the Biosafety Bill into law in 2015, making it eligible to join the league of nations that are already using genetic engineering (GE), also called genetic modification (GM), to boost food production.
The National Biotechnology Management Agency (NBMA) regulates the technology.
Nigeria’s federal government had earlier set a timeline for commercialisation of GE cotton and cowpea.
A few weeks ago, the deputy director of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Rose Gidado, reaffirmed governments plan to introduce GMO cowpea and cotton in the market as biotechnology products.
But Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), an organisation at the forefront of the campaign against GMO products in a statement Thursday by its project officer, Joyce Ebebeinwe, criticised this move.
The group argued that there is no guarantee of the environmental and health safety of the beans and cotton to be released by the end of 2018.
Nnimmo Bassey, the Director of HOMEF stressed that there are serious challenges GMOs pose in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune dysfunction and genetic disorders which make it very important that Nigeria adopts the precautionary principle.
The organisation stated that it is good to learn from others who have taken caution against GMOs.
“The Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, had declined to sign into law a Biosafety Bill passed by the Ugandan Parliament in October 2017 because of issues that included liability and redress and concerns on conservation of indigenous crops and agricultural biodiversity.
“The way to improve economic situation for farmers is to invest in organic agriculture, provide farmers with extension services, needed infrastructure, good roads and access to land and loans. Support for farmers should include investment in research and exploration of agroecology approach to the problems of pests and diseases.”
HOMEF insisted that the promise to have GMOs labelled in Nigeria to ensure that the public has a choice on whether or not to eat such crops will not work mainly due to the country’s socio-cultural and economic realities.
It further urged the government to look critically at the activities of the Nigerian Biosafety Regulatory Agency and the subject of genetically modified foods in the country.
The Nigeria Institute of Food, Science and Technology (NIFST) had also on Tuesday, warned that Genetically Modified Seedlings would be inimical to the country’s local seedlings.
President of NIFST, Dahiru Adamu, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that “the genetically modified seeds would make it impossible for our local seedlings to be productive for farmers and the nation.
“Once we allow genetically modified seeds to come into Nigeria to be planted by our farmers, that may mark the end of Nigeria. This is because by the time these seedlings are planted, one, two to five years, it will compare with our local seedlings and will not allow them to germinate.
“This will lead us to buying seeds from them and therefore, hold us to ransom, and become the determinant factor whether the country gets food or not and in turn become a big problem for the country”, Adamu said.
Genetically Modified Organism, GMO is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology.
There has been a protracted debate over the application of genetically modified crops into the food system of the country. These debates has birthed two groups, Pro-GMO and Anti-GMO. The former is for while the latter is against the application.
The National Biosafety Management Agency had in 2016 issued two permits for the Commercial Release and Placing on Market of genetically modified cotton, and the confined field trial of maize, to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited.
This move came despite concerted efforts of many Nigerians (comprising 100 groups of farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local farmers) to prevent the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton and maize into Nigeria’s foods and farming system.