Nigerian civil society activists have called on the federal government to overturn the permits it granted for field trials of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the activists called for the repeal of Nigeria’s Biosafety Law.
“Clearly, NBMA (National Biosafety Management Agency) as conceived and constructed is incapable of objectively managing biosafety regulation in Nigeria,” the statement read.
“We cannot repose any confidence in an agency that never mentioned or let it slip that they had opened the doors to an influx of GMOs by issuing permits to Monsanto until we announced to the general public.”
The statement was signed by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF); Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty Manager/Coordinator, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria; and Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Convener Nigerians Against GMO.
The statement came amidst claims and counter-claims between the activists and Nigerian government officials over the status of GMOs in the country.
Last month, the NBMA 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.
The two permits include: ‘Permit for Commercial Release/Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) genetically modified for leptidopteran insect pest resistance’ with Permit No: NBMA/CM/IM/001 and ‘Permit for Confined Field Trial (CFT) of Maize (NK603 and MON89034 × NK603) genetically modified for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance’ with Permit No: NBMA/CFT/001.
Despite claims by anti-GMO activists, Amina Mohammed, the Minister for Environment, said no GMO was “officially” being grown in the country.
“All the GMOs in Nigeria officially approved are under experimental fields, the insect resistant cotton for commercial release will still be subjected to further processes for the next two years,” Ms. Mohammed said in a statement last week.
GMOs ‘officially approved in Nigeria’
In their statement on Tuesday, the activists said said government officials possibly had a vague understanding of the permit document.
“Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd did not apply for field trials of GMO cotton,” the statement continued.
“They applied for a commercial release and placement in the environment. This means commercial planting of GMO cotton in Nigeria.
“Section 4 of the permit states and we quote ‘After a thorough analysis of the application dossier, Risk Assessment and Risk Management plan prepared in connection with the assessment of the application for the permit, it is unlikely that the proposed release will cause adverse impact on the environment and on human health. A permit is therefore granted to the Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd as applied for.’
“This was signed by the Director General/Chief Executive Officer of NBMA on Sunday 1st May 2016.”
The statement added that the permit did not leave room for further trials.
“The requirement of the applicant is merely to make reports on their experience in their farms,” it said.
“This is very different from confined field trials as is the case with the permit for GMO maize – which, in any case, we equally object to.”
Ms. Mohammed had also said the Federal Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the NBMA, would organise an experts meeting involving civil society groups, national agencies, and international organisations to clarify Nigeria’s position on the use of GMOs.
The activists queried why the NBMA failed to consider the “robust objections made by five million Nigerians” before granting the permit to Monsanto.
“NBMA by its letter of 28th April, 2016, acknowledging receipt of objection from Health of Mother Earth Foundation and other civil society groups, stated: ‘Your observations have been noted by the Agency… That the National Biosafety Management Agency would review the application holistically and take the best interest of Nigeria, to avoid risks to human health, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The socio- economic impacts would also be well considered before taking the final decision on the application.’
“We consider it intriguing and suspicious that a mere one working day after this letter, the DG of NBMA issued permits to Monsanto,” the activists stated.
“This smacks of utter disdain for opinions and positions of concerned citizens who are conscious of the devastating socio-economic and environmental impacts of the failure of these crops, especially GMO cotton in neighbouring Burkina Faso as well as in India, Pakistan and elsewhere.
“We are concerned that NBMA and NABDA keep going around hyping myths sold by the biotech industry to an unsuspecting public, while being careful not to reveal to citizens that they had rushed to issue permits a mere two months after the applications were advertised.”
The permit issued by NBMA to Monsanto states amongst other things that the ‘The purpose of the dealings is commercial production of the GM cotton in all areas of Nigeria where cotton is cultivated and for products of the GMO to enter general commerce.’
“If the Agency insists that commercial release is the same things as filed trials, the Minister of Environment would do well to ask NBMA to issue a glossary of Nigerian GMO terminology,” said the activists.
The activists further noted that Monsanto’s BT Cotton application in Nigeria was adopted “almost verbatim” from the Malawian application the GMO company had sent in 2014 to Malawi.
“We also objected to Monsanto’s applications in Nigeria on many grounds,” said the activists.
“It is also worthy of note that it took about six months for the Regulatory body in Malawi to come to a decision and recommend to the Minister that Monsanto’s application should be nullified.
“It took NBMA just a month after 22 days’ window period given to the Nigerian public to submit comments on the applications submitted by Monsanto to issue two Permits to Monsanto to deploy GMOs in Nigeria.”