HOMEF, experts carpet FG over approval of genetically modified wheat in Nigeria


Civil society groups, representing millions of Nigerians, have decried the permit the Federal Government recently granted to Trigall Genetics S.A. for the importation of genetically modified (GM) wheat (HB4 Wheat) into the country.

Executive Director, Home of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey and representatives of the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), demanded that the permits be recalled and that the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) ceases to act as a gateway for needless and risky genetically modified organisms (GMO) products in Nigeria.

Speaking at a media briefing in Lagos at the weekend, they said: “In Argentina where the HB4 Wheat is produced as well as in nearby Brazil, farmers, socio-environmental organisations and scientists are fighting hard to stop it. USA, Uruguay, Paraguay, Indonesia and South Africa have received applications for this HB4 Wheat as far back as 2015.

Wondering about the rush and describing the development as unacceptable, they explained that the US FDA has conducted field trials on the wheat as far back as 2011; Paraguay since 2015, yet they have failed to grant approval. It is said that applications were still under evaluation and that the NBMA received an application in June 2022, a month after approval was granted.

“An independent scientific assessment of the application for the commercial release of the HB4 Wheat, reveals issues of concern regarding the analysis of endogenous gene interruptions by genetic modification; the putative production of unexpected outputs; its potential risk for consumption and the stability of the genetic modification of the transgenic IND-ØØ412-7 wheat.

“One issue of concern is that the endogenous transcription factor-HAHB4 protein that will be consumed as food/feed could not be extracted and evaluated; the reason being that it is unfeasible to isolate the HAHB4 protein in the genetic plant in enough quantity and purity to be used for quantification, biochemical studies and characterisation studies. The safety of this construct is not certain.

“The applicant conceded in the dossier that the use of new generation sequencing techniques revealed the presence of unintended elements (insertions in wheat IND-ØØ412-7) that were assumed to be eliminated during the selection process due to the lack of glucuronidase activity. The implications of the unintended elements in wheat IND-ØØ412-7 in humans, animals and the environment are undisclosed and unknown,” they stated.

Speaking further, they said the nutritional analysis of the wheat IND-ØØ412-7 revealed statistically significant differences in some proteins (amino acids – serine and threonine), vitamins (Folic acid), mineral (Zinc), fatty acids (stearic, oleic and arachidic) and forage nutrients (carbohydrate, moisture and calcium) compared to the parental control line Cadenza and commercial varieties.

The application dossier failed to show that the new trait and their related features in the wheat event IND-ØØ412-7, were distinctively evaluated for human, animal health and environment safety, adding that regrettably, the Nigeria Biosafety Committee ignored the gaps in data and knowledge in their recommendations for the approval of the importation of IND-ØØ412-7 wheat for food, feed, and processing in Nigeria.

Bassey said: “Although it is claimed that the application is for commercialisation and not for cultivation of the wheat, there is no guarantee that the GM event will not get into the hands of local farmers and contaminate indigenous varieties.

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“The applicant states that ‘in the unlikely case of accidental release, risk to humans, animals and the environment are similar to the ones produced by conventional wheat’.

“This doesn’t make sense as they also say that the traits found in the GM wheat event are not available in non-GM form of the crop. The implications of the genetic modification on human health as well as on the environment are not considered.”

Also, Coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Programme at ERA/FoEN, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, “as at the time of writing this, no risk assessment document is available on the website of NBMA. There is no telling if indeed risk assessment was conducted.

Director-General of the NBMA was recently quoted thus: ‘before the official release of GMOs, it would take up to 13 years of rigorous process to do a risk assessment on the issues of culture, environment and human health, among others’. Why then are approvals granted within merely a month as in the case of the HB4 Wheat? Shouldn’t we act in good faith and the best interest of our people? She queried.

A molecular biologist, Ifeanyi Casmir, said: “The HB4 Wheat was engineered to tolerate glufosinate ammonium which is more toxic than glyphosate. There are thousands of cases in the USA over cancers resulting from the use of glyphosate.

“Residues of glufosinate in the wheat event pose a direct threat to human and animal health. In the likely event that farmers plant the wheat, soil and water will be contaminated from intensive use of the glufosinate chemical. Although the wheat is self-fertile, it can cross-pollinate at a rate of up to 14 per cent meaning that the HB4 genes will spread to other wheat varieties.”

On her part, the Programmes Manager of HOMEF, Joyce Brown asked: “Why do we need to import the GM variety of wheat modified for drought resistance and herbicide tolerance if it is only for use as food and feed and not for cultivation? Except the whole thing is an ambush against Nigerians?

“In Buenos Aires (Argentina’s capital city) in July 2022, a judge issued a precautionary measure that prohibits the release and use of #HB4wheat. We should uphold this measure in Nigeria and stop flooding the country with various genetically modified food products, which have grave implications not only for the present but also future generations,” she added.

Also, Executive Director CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, stressed that the government of Nigeria should commit to a long-term evaluation of the safety of GM technology as well as other emerging technologies.

He added that government should ensure adequate support for our farmers and support agroecology, which assures optimum productivity of health, and safe food while replenishing ecosystems.

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