A team of civil society organisation representatives from Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Nigerians against GMOs, Peace and Development Project, Centre for Human and Socio-Economic Rights, ChildHealth Organisation, Spaces for Change, Justice Development and Peace Commission, Joint Action Front, as well as Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection during a rally against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Lagos on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 told Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu why they feel Abuja should urgently ban genetically-engineered crops, among other demands
Gathered here today are farmers, youths, women, scientists, medical practitioners, lawyers, civil society organisations and the generality of Nigerians whose food and agricultural systems are being threatened by the unrestrained release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into our country, Nigeria. While we appreciate efforts of government at Federal and State levels to promote agricultural development in the country, we are concerned about aspects that would scuttle these efforts and push our people into acute food insecurity in the long term.
We are submitting this petition through you because Lagos, by virtue of its enviable position among the states in Nigeria, and its population, is most at risk of reception of GMOs.
Mr. Governor, we demand a ban on GMOs and a repeal of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act which came into force in the year 2015 and was reviewed in 2019 to include emerging and even more contentious aspects of extremely risky modern biotechnology.
GMOs are products of genetic engineering which is a technology that allows scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes at the cellular level in a way that is not possible via traditional or natural processes. It allows DNA from one type of organism to be introduced into another related or unrelated species. Genetic manipulation is also done within a single organism.
Nigerians are consuming foods bought from the market shelves without any idea that they are made from the genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The way these items are imported into the country calls for serious concern. Another source of worry is the fact that the agency set up to regulate biosafety issues in the country is essentially a permitting agency, passing virtually every application that comes its way. Although the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has said illegal importation of GMOs into the country is being checked, these products are abundant in our market shelves as revealed by a survey which we carried out across 10 Nigerian cities in 2018 and in 2019.
Our campaign against GMOs is particularly against genetic modification of food crops and animals and any other genetic modification that will alter ecosystem balance, negatively impact our agriculture or destroy local economies and foods. Majority of Nigerians are not aware of these GMOs in our food system and the toxic chemicals that some of them are engineered to withstand while killing everything else. Many are not aware of their implications on human and environmental health and on the livelihood of small-scale farmers.
Some GMOs are essentially pesticides while others are made to withstand the use of herbicides made by the same corporations producing the GM seeds. This has led to the development of super pests and super weeds. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against the corporation, Bayer/Monsanto in the United States due to cancer cases that are linked with the use of the corporation’s GMOs- associated glyphosate chemical and for failure of the corporation to warn the citizens of the associated risks.
A popular example of such cases is that of Dewayne Johnson who was awarded $78 million in damages to be paid by the corporation as ordered by the jury in 2018. This same glyphosate that is characterised as a carcinogen by the Cancer Research Arm of the World Health Organisation is replete in our markets in Nigeria and even endorsed with NAFDAC numbers.
GMOs thrive in monocultures which has direct implications on nutritional diversity and indirect implications on climate resilience. This system of farming on which GMOs are based will lead to land grabs, impoverish small scale farmers-who produce bulk of the food we eat and concentrate power in the head of a few industrial farmers.
The NBMA Act needs to be repealed as it is flawed with respect to the absence of provisions for strict liability and redress which mandates that the biotechnology corporations take responsibility for immediate and forthcoming negative impacts of use of their products as is the case in a similar Act in Uganda. Other areas of concern include lack of access to information, poor public consultation and participation, provisions for appeals and reviews, and lack of veritable provisions for the enforcement of the precautionary principle and decision making.
The NBMA Act confers enormous discretionary powers on the agency and gives little room for oversight. The conflict of interest inherent in the NBMA Act equally raises serious red flags about the administration of biosafety in Nigeria. We have the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) sitting on the board of the NBMA. In 2016, two of the permits issued by NBMA to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited were applied for by the company for events that were to be implemented in partnership with NABDA. Imagine a developer/promoter of GMOs applying for a permit in partnership with a biotech company and sitting to approve the same permit. This is an obvious reason to worry about our biosafety regulatory architecture.
The expansion of the Act to include definitions of evolving aspects of the applications of biotechnology such as gene drives, gene editing, and synthetic biology is a tremendously dangerous move that would compound the risks already posed by the application of the first-generation technology. Including these applications in the Act represents an opening of the country to the products of these dangerous and unproven technologies as have been demonstrated by the way the agency grants approvals for importation and release of products of the first-generation GMOs.
The use of gene drive organisms for example has the potential of wiping off whole species of organisms. Gene drives [i]are a genetic engineering tool that aim to force artificial genetic changes through entire populations of animals, insects and plants and unlike previous genetically modified organisms (GMOs), these Gene-Drive Organisms (GDOs) are deliberately designed to spread genetic pollution through generations of species. We note that this poses a severe threat to biodiversity, ecological systems and environmental sustainability.
Synthetic biology approach in genetic engineering involves the use of principles of engineering, molecular biology, physics, chemistry and computer science to generate a new organism with traits which does not exist in nature. This would have tremendous implications for local economies and biodiversity. Natural products will be replaced with synthetic (unnatural) ones and markets will be concentrated in the hands of corporations thus increasing corporate control over the product processes.
Nigeria does not need GMOs. They are promoted on false premises. Research has shown that GMOs do not give higher yields and are not more nutritious than normal crops. They do not use less herbicides and pesticides. With the many problems we are contending with as a nation, GMOs should not be allowed to compound our situation. We must not accept a technology simply because it is available. We must as a people determine what is good for us.
We should address the root causes of the challenges of food production including those of pest and disease. We should invest in in an agricultural system such as Agroecology which promotes soil health and biodiversity and ensures collaborative research and innovations with farmers with increased/sustained production of healthy and nutritious food. Farmers should be provided with needed infrastructure, extension service, access to land and credit schemes and good road-market networks.
Mr. Governor, we have come to you because we believe that as the leader of the most populated and industrial city in Nigeria, you can champion a change in the right direction for the protection of our food system and respect for the rights of people to safe/healthy food and environment.
- A nullification of the permits issued to for the importation and release of genetically modified maize, beans, cotton into the country. These permits have been issued without regard for the complaints by millions of Nigerians and without the consent of many. Nigerians should not be used as pawns or as guinea pigs in furtherance of blatant commercial interests.
- We demand a close surveillance of our markets and farms to halt illegal entry of GMOs into Nigeria and into our food supply.
- We demand a ban of all toxic agrochemicals – especially glyphosate containing ones identified as probable carcinogens.
- We demand a halt to the assault on our agriculture through genetic modification of our staple crops including cassava. 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.
- Mr. Governor, we pledge our readiness to work with you, the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government, to ensure that our people, our environment and the future of our food are protected and preserved against the threats posed by the vested interest of biotechnology companies and their cronies.