A coalition of civil society groups comprising the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria/Friends of the Earth International (ERA/FoEN/FoEI), has accused the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) of defying government policy statement and going ahead to issue permits for genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.
The coalition disclosed in a statement issued on Wednesday in Benin City, Edo State that the NBMA also acted contrary to efforts by millions of Nigerians to resist the product.
Nnimmo Bassey (Director, HOMEF) and Mariann Orovwuje (Food Sovereignty Manager/Coordinator, ERA/FoEN/FoEI) disclosed in the statement: “Despite the promise of the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril that ‘Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country’ and the concerted efforts by over five million Nigerians (made up of 100 groups comprising farmers, faith-based organisations, 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, the NBMA has issued two permits, one for the Commercial Release and Placing on Market of genetically modified cotton and the other for the confined field trial of maize, to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited.”
The two permits have been posted on NBMA website. They were signed by the Director-General of NBMA, Rufus Ebegba, on Sunday, 1st May, 2016 and issued to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. The first is entitled: “Permit for Commercial release / Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) genetically modified for lepidopteran insect pest resistance” with Permit No: NBMA/CM/IM/001. The second is entitled: “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.
Reacting to the development, Bassey stressed: “This is extremely shocking. 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! 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.”
Orovwuje disclosed: “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 that in its application MON 15985, Monsanto is 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. This concern, which is dismissed by the applicant, has 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 – 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 concerned consumer, faults NBMA’s decisions, saying: “The claim of the agency 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.”
Bassey said, “We have always said the NBMA Act of 2015 is gravely defective, 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. 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 despite the fact that on the 14th of April, 2016, our neighbours, Burkina-Faso’s cabinet announced 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 reached that decision because GMO cotton yielded shorter fibres and they were thus suffering economic loses.
“NBMA approved the glysophate herbicide resistant maize despite the IARC 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 roundup herbicide because of its link to Kidney disease. 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.
“No data is given on the safety of the chemicals to which the events are resistant, namely glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs). In fact, no information on experiments carried out has been made available. The application is of extremely poor quality. The application ends on page 50 without comprehensive information on insect pest resistance, which is a critical aspect of the information required to justly appraise the application in relation to the insect-resistance trait and in particular to purpose 3 of the field trials to evaluate the efficacy of the MON 89034 × NK603 against certain Lepidopteran pests.
“Throughout the application, Monsanto asserts that NK603 and MON 89034 × NK603 are equivalent to conventional maize. The theory of ‘equivalence’ is a worn out argument that has been discredited by independent science, including in a joint South Africa – Norway biosafety project published in 2011. (See SANBI (2011). Monitoring the environmental impacts of GM maize in South Africa: The outcomes of the South Africa – Norway biosafety co-operation project (2008 – 2010). Department of Environmental Affairs.
“NBMA Approved this herbicide resistant GMO knowing full well that The EU nations have refused to back a limited extension of the pesticide glyphosate’s use, threatening withdrawal of Monsanto’s Roundup and other weed killers from shelves if no decision is reached by the end of this month.”
Commenting on the decision, Bart Staes MEP environment and food safety spokesperson said: “We applaud those EU governments who are sticking to their guns and refusing to authorise this controversial toxic herbicide. There are clear concerns about the health risks with glyphosate, both as regards it being a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. Moreover, glyphosate’s devastating impact on biodiversity should have already led to its ban. Thankfully, the significant public mobilisation and political opposition to re-approving glyphosate has been taken seriously by key EU governments, who have forced the EU commission to back down.”
On May 26, 2016, a St. Louis jury ordered Monsanto to pay $46.5 million in damages for negligence in the production of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. This case, which went on trial April 28 2016, involved just three of nearly 100 plaintiffs “claiming that exposure to PCBs caused cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Bassey adds: “Sadly, while a number of plaintiffs have died as a result of the cancers they developed from Monsanto’s 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 has 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.
“Essentially, therefore, GMO maize and cotton into Nigeria must be rejected because they would not only create health challenges, sterilise agric-potentials of the nation but scuttle the change agenda of the current government just as they would lead to neo-colonisation of Nigeria and Africa. The time to stop it is now.
“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. 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.”