Activists Nnimmo Bassey (Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation – HOMEF), Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje (Food Sovereignty Manager/Coordinator ERA/FoEN and FoE International) and Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour (Convener Nigerians Against GMO) question circumstances leading to the granting of approval for GMOs to be grown in the country. They want permits issued to Monsanto to introduce GMOs into Nigeria overturned and the Biosafety law repealed
The fact that GMOs are approved to be grown in Nigeria is not in doubt. What is disputed is why the approval was surreptitious, to the extent of being issued on a Sunday. We have issues with the press statement issued on the 20th of June 2016, and credited to the Hon. Minister of Environment Amina J. Mohammed, that stating: “What we have approved are for field trials.” She further stated that “All the GMOs in Nigeria officially approved are under experimental fields.” The statement further said that the insect-resistant cotton for commercial release will still be subjected to further processes for the next two years.
We doubt that the National Biosafety management Agency (NBMA) has a different understanding of a permit for commercial release and placement in the environment from what the permit document itself states in plain language.
Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd did not apply for field trials of GMO cotton. 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 permit does not leave room for further trials. The requirement of the applicant is merely to make reports on their experience in their farms. 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.
Indeed, the press statement directly contradicts the record on the Biosafety Clearing House’s (BCH) website and on NBMA’s official website. The official response to the concerns of Nigerians and massive rejection of the rushed offer of permits for failed GMOs appears to be calculated to obfuscate the issues and lull Nigerians into thinking that all is well.
In this era of change we cannot cling to wrong-headed policies or unto the wrong foot put forward by the previous government. Having a biotech policy cannot be a justification for opening up the nation’s fragile ecosystems and stressed environment to genetically modified organisms. A biotech policy cannot erase the globally accepted Precautionary Principle on which biosafety regulations hang.
While describing the concerns about GMOs expressed by the public as legitimate, the Minister of Environment stated that the Federal Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), is organising an experts’ meeting involving civil society groups, national agencies and international organisations to address all concerns expressed, with a view to clarifying Nigeria’s position on the use of GMOs. Our response to this is why did NBMA not take into consideration the robust objections made by five million Nigerians to the wishy-washy applications made by Monsanto if the NBMA is ready to hear voices other than those of the biotech industry?
NBMA by its letter of 28th April 2016 acknowledged receipt of objection from Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) 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. 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 they applications were advertised. NBMA obviously relishes in holding the record as the fastest GMO endorser in the world.
The Permit issued by NBMA to Monsanto also 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.
The Minister also alluded that, with the “act in place, Nigeria has taken laudable strides in order to adopt the necessary legal biosafety framework and policy, bearing in mind that if Nigeria gets it right, it will guide other African countries.” An analysis of the Biosafety Act shows it as an extremely weak and ineffective law that is rigged to subvert the sanctity of the Nigerian environment and to facilitate the colonisation of our agricultural and food systems. It reads like a piece of legislation pieced together by the biotech industry.
As we have stated elsewhere, the board of NBMA is populated by groups avowed to the promotion of GMOs. It is a law that requires urgent review and we call on our President as well as the National Assembly to disband the board of NBMA and repeal or radically review the NBMA Act of 2015 for the security of our food systems, protection of our environment from toxic agro-chemicals and for the preservation of our biodiversity.
We cannot claim to be immune to the dangers that GMOs and attendant chemicals such as glyphosate pose to human and environmental health. Nineteen European countries have completely banned genetically modified crops. On Friday the 24th of June 2016, The Russian State of Duma passed a bill banning all import and production of GMOs in the country. The bill will affect all crops and animals considered to be genetically modified, except for those used for scientific purposes.
Violations of the law carry a fine of 10,000-50,000 ($150-$750) rubles for individuals and 100,000-500,000 rubles for legal entities ($1,500-$7,500). Meanwhile, Our Nigerian Biosafety Acts pegs fines for violations at N2,500,000 (about $7,000) for individuals and N5,000,000 ($14,000) for companies.
According to the report, “Russian officials insist that country’s farms will be able to produce enough food for the country without the use of yield-increasing GMOs.” This is not geopolitics; it is biosafety.
In Africa, Rwanda has resolved that it will not lift the ban on GMOs despite a sharp decline in its crop yields. Other countries are resolute in resisting the political arm-twisting associated with the actions of this industry.
Perhaps it is worthy to mention again here that the BT Cotton application that Monsanto had recycled here in Nigeria was adopted almost verbatim from the Malawian application Monsanto had sent in 2014 to Malawi. Our sources tell us that the Malawian National Biosafety Regulatory Committee recommended the nullification of the application to the designated Minister of Environment on a number of grounds: No cost-benefit analysis has been carried out to support Monsanto’s claims that this technology will benefit cotton farmers in Malawi, issues of secondary pests, exposure pathways and pest resistance not addressed, safety and environmental risks had not been adequately addressed by the Monsanto application, issues of liability and redress had been ignored by the application, just to mention a few.
We also objected to Monsanto’s applications in Nigeria on many grounds. 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.
What risk assessments and environmental impact studies did NBMA carry out before issuing these permits?
Surely the Hon. Minister does not expect us to believe that NBMA will do right by Nigerians. How can NBMA really evaluate the efficacy of technologies like GMOs or assure Nigerians of their safety when officials of the agency in all their media appearances do better than GMO salesmen or spokespersons for the biotech industry? How can anyone say there is nothing wrong with a genetically modified crop, Bt Cotton, that just failed in neighbouring Burkina Faso, and the farmers are making claims of $48.3 Billion CFA Francs ($83.91) from Monsanto? Are we having regulators or GMO traders making decisions over our destiny?
Clearly, NBMA as conceived and constructed is incapable of objectively managing biosafety regulation in Nigeria. 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.
We restate our stand that the so-called permits issued to Monsanto to introduce GMOs into Nigeria should be overturned and the Biosafety law itself should be repealed. We also call on the National Assembly to urgently investigate the process leading to the granting of the permit on Sunday, 1st May 2016 to assure Nigerians that we are not pawns and that Nigerians will not be used as guinea pigs in a commercial game to open Africa to toxic technologies.