Nigeria deploys genetically modified cotton, maize despite safety concerns
The National Biosafety Management Agency has issued two permits for the Commercial Release and Placing on Market of genetically modified cotton, and the confined field trial of maize, to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited.
This move came despite concerted efforts of many Nigerians (comprising 100 groups of farmers, faith-based organizations, 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.
Ibrahim Jibril, the Minister of State for Environment, had also promised that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country”.
The two permits are: “Permit for Commercial release/ Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) genetically modified for lepidopteran insect pest resistance’ with Permit No: NBMA/CM/IM/001 and ‘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.
They were signed by NBMA’s Director-General, Rufus Ebegba, on May 1.
Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, described the development as “extremely shocking”.
“This is 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,” said Mr. Bassey, whose group is among those at the front line of the resistance.
“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.”
According to Mariann Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty Campaigner, 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 in its application MON 15985, that Monsanto was 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, according to the groups.
This concern, which was dismissed by the applicant, had 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 – unfortunately 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 consumer, said NBMA’s decisions were “grossly faulty”.