Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has raised the alarm that the proposed release of Genetically Modified (GM) cowpea (beans) and cotton products will expose Nigerians to toxicology, allergy, immune dysfunction and genetic disorders.

HOMEF noted that while Nigerians face uncertainties over food security due to incessant herders-farmers clashes, another threat facing the nation without much notice is the proposed release of GM products on Nigerians.

The Director of HOMEF Nnimmo Bassey raised the alarm in a statement issued on Tuesday while reacting to the statement credited to the Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), and Assistant Director, National Biotechnology Development Agency ( NABDA), Dr. Rose Gidado, that “before the end of 2018, Bt Cowpea and Bt Cotton as biotechnology products in Nigeria would be in the market”.

According to HOMEF, there is no guarantee about the environmental and health safety of the beans and cotton to be released by the end of 2018.

Bassey said: “There are serious challenges GMOs pose in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune dysfunction and genetic disorders which make it very important that Nigeria adopts the precautionary principle-which warns that strict measures should be applied where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage and lack of full scientific certainty

“The fact that President Muhammadu Buhari just inaugurated a Food Security Council underscores the centrality of food security to the country. However, without food safety there cannot be food security.”

Bassey also faulted the claim by Gidado that the pesticide tolerant cowpea would allow for a reduced use of pesticide, stressing that: “It is well known that pests have developed resistance to the Bt toxins and this resistance leads to an increased use of toxic chemicals which increases the damage to the environment.”

Also, the Chairperson of African Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA), Mariann Orovwuje, said Bt crops and other GM foods would not help Nigeria’s economy as the supporters of the technology made Nigerians to believe.

She noted: “Rather, there will be forced dependence on corporate bodies for seeds. Farmers will have no right to reuse their seeds and agricultural production will be left in the hands of large scale industrial investors.”

Orovwuje stated that the way to improve economic situation for farmers is to invest in organic agriculture, provide farmers with extension services, needed infrastructure, good roads and access to land and loans, adding that support for farmers should include investment in research and exploration of agroecology approach to the problems of pests and diseases.

HOMEF also faulted the recent statement by the Director General, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba, at a media conference in Abuja, which showed clearly how flawed the country’s biosafety regulatory system is.

Ebegba had given importers of genetically modified (GM) seeds a seven-day ultimatum to formalise their dealings or risk being shut down, but HOMEF said that the statement was in direct contrast to the provisions of Section 23 (1) of the NBMA Act 2015.

It states: “Any person, institution or body who wishes to import, export, transit or otherwise carry out a contained field trial, multi-locational trial or commercial release of a genetically modified organism shall apply to the Director General of the Agency not less than 270 days to the date of import, export, transit or the commencement of such activity.”

“The statement by the NBMA DG may be construed to mean that dealers on GM products in Nigeria will be given permits after they had imported GMO seeds without passing through due approval processes. HOMEF totally objects to any sort of formalisation of illegal importation of GMOs into the country,” HOMEF said.