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Thursday, September 21, 2023

GMO foods regulation and need for independent labelling agency

Recently, a very misleading press statement was released. The heading was titled “GMO foods: FG may shut Shoprite, Next superstores”. The opening paragraph read as follows:

A Shoprite outlet, one of the outfits involved in the GMO foods regulation controversy
A Shoprite outlet, one of the outfits involved in the GMO foods regulation controversy

“The Federal Government, through its National Biosafety Management Agency, has issued a seven-day ultimatum to retail store giants, Shoprite and Next Cash ‘N’ Carry to withdraw any product that contains Genetically Modified Organisms from their shelves or risk a total shutdown.”

It ended with the paragraph below:

“The NBMA boss added, ‘Please, it is an advice and this advice is not without a legal backing. So we urge you to withdraw all GMO foods from your shelves and formalise your dealings by obtaining permits’.”

Clearly, it is not about regulating or testing the safety of these GMO products, NBMA’s gripe is that these companies need to come and get licenses from them. At this point one must wonder where NAFDAC fits in all this.

In the past two years and with each passing day, it has become clear that the federal government is hell bent on shoving GMO foods down our throats whether we like it or not. This decision has been taken despite five million Nigerians petitioning the federal government through NBMA to stop the release of Monsanto’s GMO cotton and Corn in to our food system.

The so-called regulatory agency acts as a promoter for GMO foods, without carrying out independent animal or human trials on these foods. They are so eager to have us eating GMOs despite the Health, environmental and economic detriments to our balance of trade and exports.

Despite the fact that, even after 20 years, these foods are still steeped in controversy and six of the eight G8 countries have bans on cultivation and human consumption of these foods.

Despite the most recent investigative report published on the 29/10/16 by the New York times titled “Uncertain Harvest: Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops” concludes that, genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides. I quote from the article below:

“The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weed killers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.

An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields – food per acre – when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernised agricultural producers like France and Germany.

Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that ‘there was little evidence’ that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.”

Despite evidence of potential contamination of natural varieties by wind drift as well as the fact that Organic food has a retail value four times the value of GMO food with a huge global demand (A potential high source of forex). Neither has the fact that we would be shutting ourselves out of our biggest export market (Europe). Incidentally GMO producers such as the USA and CHINA are net exporters of food but net importers of Organic food.

Neither does the dependency on foreign nations and Bio-tech companies to supply us seeds that do not self-proliferate attached to patent claims making our farmers dependent on foreign seeds and expensive inputs every year to plant food.

Despite Japanese partnerships in Agriculture all over Africa, our Government is not interested in pursuing or partnering to learn and promote healthy organic agriculture that the industrial giant (Japan) is famous for.

Despite our president’s multiple trips to Germany, looking in to the methods by which Germany has created high yield agriculture in a sustainable and healthy way is a direction our government seems determined to look away from.

Despite the failures of GMO cotton in Burkina Faso and the expulsion of Monsanto from India (due to the high prices of using GMO seeds and inputs creating huge financial burdens on farmers), our government marches forward nonetheless.

Despite our lack of a robust, integrity filled regulatory Infrastructure, Our government tells us that they will ensure roasted corn on the road side is labelled as GMOs, and the tin cans Nigerians buy their beans in is labelled GMO beans, the bag of Ogi you buy in the market would also be labelled GMO…. We are supposed to believe this. A nation that is yet to achieve safe standards of beans for export to the European Union, an issue that would have been unheard of locally if Europe had not banned the importation of our beans because, guess what, you and I don’t matter; poisoned beans is good for you, it’s only an issue when we need to export. This is the regulatory system we are going to further burden and trust.

A Nigerian scientist (Samson prolific on twitter), is domesticating aeroponics in Nigeria, a process by which you can grow foods without soil (eliminating the need for weed control), there are videos of the young scientist harvesting yams from the air, there are farms practising agro-ecology, permaculture. Farmers are yet to get involved with integrated pest management systems (using beneficial insects instead of chemicals to control pest) as well as automated weed removal technology, sustainable boogies that use pneumatic (air) pressure to remove weeds. None of these deter our government from setting us on the GMO path despite the fact that these crops once released pollute our entire gene pool and cannot be recalled.

Since our government have barely educated the people about GMOs and its real cause for concern, instead has chosen to proceed full steam ahead with test and GMO licensing, I kindly ask our federal government and GMO overlords to kindly look favourably upon setting up a National Organic Promotion, Protection & Certification Council. The mandate of this body would be to:

  • Test for the contamination of natural varieties
  • Ensure sufficient distance is maintained to prevent contamination of our natural varieties
  • Help local farmers litigate against contamination of their foods
  • Educate farmers on best natural/organic practices
  • Help farmers meet export standards and key in to the huge global demand for organic foods
  • Certify foods to be Organic.
  • Engage independent scientist to conduct trials on foods and their effect on Human and animal health

We also need an independent GMO labelling agency. The NBMA is overflowing with conflict of interest. Rather than safe guard the Nigerian people’s health and interest, it would seem that they have been mandated to be GMO promoters. The labelling agency should be under the purview of the consumer protection agency. With these in place, just maybe the will of the people would not be completely trampled upon by what is shaping out to be, in this regard at least, a tyrannical government.

By Patrick Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour

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