Four environment and biosafety-focused groups have called for a ban of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria. The groups also demanded a repeal of the of the law establishing the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA). 

The demands were made in a letter addressed to the Senate President, Mr. Bukola Saraki. Jointly signed by Mr. Nnimo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Foundation (HOMEF); Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Convener, Nigerians against GMOs; Jackie Ikotuonye, Country Representative, Bio-integrity and Natural Food Awareness Initiative; and Mariann Bassey –Orovwuje of Food Sovereignty Programme, Friends of the Earth Nigeria/Africa, the letter stated that NBMA has become a law that allows the entry of GMOs into Nigeria.  

“We decided to approach you, as the leader of the Nigerian Senate because we believe that the serious biosafety challenges confronting Nigeria can best be resolved by a repeal of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act, signed into law in April 2015 by the immediate past President of Nigeria, after the former National Assembly had passed a bill for it,” the groups said.

According to them, a repeal of the biosafety law is imperative because it has failed to perform its role of ensuring biosafety. They recalled that barely a year after the law took effect, NABMA issued three GMO permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. Two of the permits, they explained, were jointly issued to Monsanto and National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), a government agency represented on the Board of NBMA.  The biosafety advocates accused NABDA of being unstintingly committed to the promotion of agricultural biotechnology. 

“We strongly object to NABDA sitting on the Board of NBMA, applying for a GMO permit jointly with a commercial concern and then presiding over the issuance of such a permit. This is a classic case of conflict of interest that cannot be permitted, especially considering the sensitive issue of biosafety and related biosecurity,” they raged.

Also viewed as a cause for concern is that the NBMA issued “Permit for Commercial Release/Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985), genetically modified for lepidopteran insect pest, on Sunday 1 May 2016, a work-free day. Equally regarded as suspicious was that the fact that the next day, 2 May 2016, was a public holiday. 

They lamented the fact that the NBMA approved Monsanto’s proposal for GMO cotton in May 2016 when Burkina-Faso had announced it was discontinuing genetically modified cotton on 14 April 2016 because of its poor quality. The quality and quantity of Burkinabe cotton, they added, have improved since it ditched the genetically modified strain of cotton.

“It is worthy of note that cotton production has improved in Burkina Faso in both quality and quantity since they reverted to non-GMOs varieties. Ghana has also recently placed on hold its activities on the same failed variety after Monsanto allegedly ceased funding the exercise,” the biosafety activists stated.

They noted that the objection of Nigerians to Mosanto’s application and NABDA was driven by health, environmental, socio-economic, technical, administrative and molecular concerns as well as safety assessments and environment risk assessment.

They also said recalled that they pointed out that safety and environmental risks as well as issues of liability and redress were not adequately addressed by Mosanto.

The activists observed that the NBMA Act 2015 provides wide-ranging discretionary powers to the agency, but not enough mandatory duties in the operational provisions to ensure that the agency is able offer assurances that GMOs do not pose harm to human and animal health, society and the environment. 

Equally considered worrisome is that the law lacks clarity about how the NBMA could be subject to oversight the Federal Ministry of Environment, its parent ministry.

They argued that the Act is due for a repeal or, at least, a reworking to provide for access to information, public consultation and participation, liability and redress, labeling and the right to know, decision making, appeals and reviews, precautionary principle and banish conflict of interest. 

The environmental activists pointed out that the composition of the Governing Board is arbitrary and densely populated with GMO promoters.

In addition to the demand for a repeal or remodelling of the Act, the groups also made a four-point demand. These are the nullification of the permits issued to Monsanto and NABDA on 1 May 2016 and an investigation of the process through which they were granted; close surveillance of markets and farms to halt illegal entry of GMOs into the country, ban of all toxic agrochemicals, especially those thought to be carcinogenic and a halt to genetic modification of staple crops such as cassava, maize and beans.

“We urge that Nigeria should be circumspect about technologies that aim to contaminate our environment, destroy our agriculture, culture and rupture our socio-economic fabric and assert unbridled controls over our agriculture and foods. The false promises about the usefulness of GMOs must be exposed and rejected,” they demanded.

The activists contended that GMOs do not give higher yields, are not more nutritious than normal crops, do not use less herbicides and pesticides, thrive in monocultures and their safety is neither proven nor assured because the biotechnology industry meddles in scientific researches related to them.

They expressed their willingness to work with the National Assembly to repeal and replace the NBMA Act 2015. The groups warned that Nigerians should not be used as guinea pigs by commercial interests.

GMO vegetables

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