Nigeria deploys genetically modified cotton, maize despite safety concerns

The National Biosafety Management Agency has 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 organizations, 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.

Ibrahim Jibril, the Minister of State for Environment, had also promised that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country”.

The two permits are: “Permit for Commercial release/ Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) genetically modified for lepidopteran insect pest resistance’ with Permit No: NBMA/CM/IM/001 and ‘Permit for Confined Field Trial (CFT) of maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603) genetically modified for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance’ with Permit No: NBMA/C FT/001.

They were signed by NBMA’s Director-General, Rufus Ebegba, on May 1.

Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, described the development as “extremely shocking”.

“This is little wonder 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,” said Mr. Bassey, whose group is among those at the front line of the resistance.

“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.”

According to Mariann 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 NBMA objecting to Monsanto’s applications.”

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.

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.

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, a consumer, said NBMA’s decisions were “grossly faulty”.

“The claim of the agency is shocking when it claims that in arriving ‘at this decision the National Biosafety Management Agency took into consideration the advice of National Biosafety Committee National Biosafety Technical Sub-committee and public views… The Agency was convinced that there are no known adverse impacts to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity taking into account risk to human health.’

“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.”

The NBMA Act of 2015 is defective, according to Mr. Bassey, because its governing board is filled with GMO promoters such as NABDA and the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria.

“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.”

NBMA approved Monsanto’s proposal for Bt cotton when the cabinet of nearby Burkina Faso was announcing, on April 14, their goal to reduce the acreage for genetically modified cotton this season until it’s completely phased out in 2018 and replaced by conventional cotton.

The decision was reached amidst concerns that GMO cotton yielded shorter fibres, resulting in economic loses.

NBMA approved the glysophate herbicide resistant maize despite the International Agency for Research on Cancer report that linked the active ingredient glyphosate to cancer.

“It is no surprise that nations like Sri Lanka, amongst others, heeded and took action by banning Monsanto’s round up herbicide because of its link to Kidney disease,” Mr. Bassey said.

“That NBMA is considering giving us this ‘trojan horse’ gift is indeed unfortunate knowing the low level of use of protective gears by our rural farmers and communities living close to farms.

“References used in support of claims made by Monsanto are too old and none referred to the two GM maize events specifically but are general references for normal maize research.

“This may be due to the lack of thorough scientific peer-reviewed research carried out in support of the claims made in the application, or is a deliberate effort at hiding information. We note that no details of feeding studies whatsoever were provided by the applicant.”

The case against Monsanto

On May 26, 2016, a St. Louis jury ordered Monsanto to pay $46.5million in damages for negligence in the production of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

This case, which went on trial April 28 2016, involved three of nearly 100 plaintiffs claiming that “exposure to PCBs caused cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

While a number of plaintiffs had died as a result of the cancers they developed from the toxic PCBs, their claims were made by surviving relatives.

The suit claims that Monsanto knew about the dangers of PCBs decades ago, but gave false testimony and scientific information to the public saying it was safe.

Further damaging evidences pile up against indicted Monsanto: A trial in Redlands, California in May 2016 on the dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup reveals that “it is not only glyphosate that is dangerous, but also chemicals listed as inert ingredients.”

A high court in Paris had punished a high ranking official representing Monsanto’s interests for deceitfully covering up research data proving that Monsanto was hiding toxicity of its own corn.

The information showed that it could promote neuro-developmental disabilities including autism, attention-deficit, disorder, dyslexia and other cognitive impairments affecting millions of children worldwide and seem to be increasing in frequency.

“It is a mark of utter recklessness that NBMA would rush to issue approvals for GMOs to be released in Nigeria less than a year of the NBMA Act coming into force,” said Mr. Bassey.

“We demand that the permits surreptitiously issued to Monsanto on a platter of gold without regard to the concerns of millions of Nigerians should be revoked immediately.

“We also urge that the recently enacted National Biosafety Agency Management Act should be quickly repealed to prevent NBMA from running amok with GMOs and flooding our country with these risky organisms.”


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