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Groups commend Senate for backing strict enforcement, regulation of GMOs in Nigeria

By EDU ABADE

• Insist GM CROPS Are Unsustainable, Unsafe

Environmental activists, public health advocates and civil society groups have commended the Senate for backing strict enforcement and regulation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) crops and food items in the country’s food chain.

This followed their reaction to reports available to members of the public on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 that the Senate had insisted on GMOs thorough regulation [1] in the country.

The groups including GMO-Free Nigeria, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and others, therefore, commended the Senate for considering a bill to review the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act in the overall interest of protecting food safety and public interests of Nigerians.

Speaking to journalists in Lagos at a media briefing on the development, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey said: “This is a huge milestone towards defending the rights of Nigerian citizens to safe food and environment. It is a step in the right direction for consumers and especially for smallholder farmers, who are directly impacted by GMOs and associated chemicals, and yet have little or no knowledge or choice about the entry of these unnatural varieties into our food system or of their potential risks. We reject being fed with foods of dubious quality!

“We have always called on the Government to interrogate the questionable authorization of crops that would have irreversible impacts on our biodiversity, health, environment, and food safety. We applaud this intervention by the Senate in seeking to enforce law and order with proper regulation of Biosafety in Nigeria.”

Bassey added that promoting food safety, security and sovereignty is a mandate that rests not only on the Biosafety Management Agency but also on the entire public and thus public opinion must be duly considered in decision making processes concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

He added that it should never be forgotten that Nigeria shares extensive land borders with other nations and GMOs allowed into Nigeria are invariably being introduced to these neighbouring nations without their knowledge or consent.

Citing a report by Food Farms News, Bassey stated that it was reported that the Presenter of the bill, the Senate Leader, Dr Yahaya Abdullahi, stressed why the Bill for the Amendment of the National Biosafety Management Act (NBMA) should be supported for more diligent legislation that would make Nigeria zero tolerant to any hazardous product as related to GMOs saying our soils and the good health of Nigerians must be well protected with eco-friendly environment.

He had said: “There have not been any conclusive findings regarding overall safety of GMOs on normal lives and environment. So, my distinguished colleagues, caution must be our watch words in the handling of the GMOs because even as we speak about sixty countries around the world population have partially or totally banned the use of GMOs.”

Also, Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Akinbode Oluwafemi, who commended the Senate for the bold step said: “We strongly believe that scientific integrity and social responsibility and accountability are not negotiable, and no technology should be exempted from these values.”

He insisted that those saddled with the responsibility of protecting the nation’s food must look away from the industrial yield-output paradigm and adopt a more integrated systems approach to food and agriculture that takes into consideration many factors, including local food security and sovereignty.

“There is the need for very effective independent, credible, regulatory authority to ensure rigorous oversight of GE crops, without the least hint of any conflict of interest. Priority should be given to rural communities,

livelihoods and the interests of resource-poor and marginal small-scale farmers rather than serving corporate interests and their profits.

“GMOs will bring about seed colonisation, distorting of our food culture and foster dependency on local and international corporations. Instead of ensuring the well-being of the people, it only stands to benefit the corporations and their Nigerian cohorts,” he further stated.

The groups also applauded the decision of the upper legislative chamber, presided over by President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and supported by majority of the Senators in passing of the Second Reading of the Bill for an Amendment of the NBMA 2015 and other Related Matters 2022, for a more diligent and integrity test of GMOs.

Speakers on the Senate floor were of the opinion that our environment must be of priority and better soil ecosystem management through diligent regulation of GMO seed varieties and other products must be upheld. They added that caution must be central in what we allow into our country through foreign partnerships in the interest of our environment and Nigerians health.

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On his part, Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Barrister Chima Williams, said this a welcome development and the position of the Senate resonates with what they have being telling Nigerians and the Federal Government for over a decade. “GMOs are regulated because their safety is not guaranteed.

“There are good reasons why in Europe robust regulatory mechanisms are in place for GM food and crops. GMOs are not the same as natural varieties and they are also not substantially equivalent. If they were indeed one and the same thing, as the GMOs proponents claim, why are they modifying them and why have patents on them?

The claim of substantial equivalence as touted by the promoters of the technology is an industry get-out tactic to avoid the rigours of proper assessment and regulation.”

Williams added that GM technology has undeniably become associated with profit seeking corporations and rolled out as a tool to further consolidate their dominant market positions and colonisation of our food systems and processes.

“We must consider too that many things that scientists are trying to achieve with GMOs have already been provided by nature and by our local farmers through conventional breeding. We should not accept the proposition that only GM Crops and GM food can solve problems in agriculture. Certainly, there is sufficient evidence to show that Non-GMO options and innovations have out-performed the much touted GM options.”

Coordinator for Food Sovereignty Program for Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Africa and the Chair of the Agroecology and Land Working Group of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, said: “There are enough reasons to hold back on commercialising GM Crops in Nigeria.”

She urged that the Senate should subject all the GMO crops and food approved into our environment to an independent, transparent, environmental, social and health impact evaluations. She said as a matter of urgency, they should be subjected to stringent regulatory scrutiny and they would know that the Groups concerns about them were justified.

The groups strongly reject the non-circumspect modus-operandi of the National Biotechnology development Agency, National Biosafety Management agency and partners to foist GMO crops and foods on undiscerning Nigerians via their introduction and marketing into our agricultural system and food supply chain.

They said they have valid concerns about GMOs and they have compelling and cogent reasons to support their views even though they are constantly being vilified by the promoters of the GM technology, adding: “Instead of engaging in open and honest debate, they have seen some scientists and promoters of the failed GM technology hardening their positions, lashing out at critics and forwarding personal opinions or parroting corporate opinions and agenda. But we refused to be swayed by industry-inspired lobbying and spin and mere rhetoric designed to shut off debates.”

The groups also urged the Senate to convene a public hearing on the Bill to allow other Nigerians add their voices in support of the path the Senate has chosen by presenting their concerns, views and evidence before the Senate on why there should be stronger and more stringent conditions for admittance of any product that is unknown to the Nigerian households.

We need truly innovative and culture relevant systems such as agroecology that protect and enhance ecosystems, support smallholder farmers while cooling the planet, increasing productivity and promoting food sovereignty.

Nigerians should support the Senate in the move towards protecting our food varieties and ensuring that GMOs are not forced on our people without their knowledge of what they are planting or eating.

We shall not fold our hands and watch our food and agricultural systems colonised and destroyed by profit seeking businesses working with public agencies serving unabashedly as middlemen.

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