Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
Following recent attempt by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) at the public hearing of the House of Representatives to expand its law by inserting extreme forms of biotechnology, including synthetic biotechnology and gene drives, environmentalists have kicked against the move, saying Nigeria cannot continue to be the testing ground for risky technologies developed elsewhere.
The environmentalists expressed concern that new techniques deployed in genetic engineering have risks beyond the ones proved by first generation modern biotechnology.
Delivering his paper on ‘GMOs and their Implications on Human and Environmental Health’ at a one day Biosafety Conference Thursday in Abuja, organised by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Dr. Casmir Ifeanyi, of Medical/Molecular Microbiologist, University of Abuja, said that though the research around GMOs was conflicting, there was a growing body of evidence connecting GMOs with health issues, environmental damage and even violations of consumers and farmers rights.
He stressed that the long term effects of GMOs on both planet and people were still largely unknown, adding that nearly all studies that claim to be safe are funded by biotechnology corporations that profit from GMO sales.
Ifeanyi explained that implications of GM foods on human heath include, increased or decreased weight compared with controls; blood biochemistry disturbances; Male reproductive organ damage and Immune system disturbances.
He was of the opinion that GMO risk assessment was based on very little scientific evidence in the sense that testing methods recommended are not adequate to ensure safety.
Ifeanyi said, “There is no possible way that our health authorities can test all possible combinations on a large enough population, over a long period of time to be able to say with absolute certainty that they are harmless. So, if any video ever tells you that GMOs are completely safe for consumption, it’s not true. We don’t know enough about them to make such a definite statement. “
Also, the Executive Director of HOMEF, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, said that gene drives have the capacity of driving species to extinction, describing it as an irreversible threat to biodiversity.
He lamented that today, government willingly sacrifice national interests in order to attract positive relationships with corporations and international financial institutions.
Bassey stated: “We cannot continue to be a testing ground for risky technologies developed elsewhere. So far, it is doubtful if any of the permits issued in Nigeria is for a variety genetically modified in Nigeria. They are more likely engineered elsewhere and brought into here to be tested.”
“In considering the matter of seeds, foods and biosafety in Nigeria, we are confronted by the display of a sophisticated lack of knowledge by highly schooled professionals who insist that whatever they must be accepted as truth.
“These highly placed players pose great threat to Africa and not just Nigeria. While the world is grappling with understanding the implications of these technologies and what governance mechanism adopt, our Nigeria regulators and some lawmakers are pushing to open the way for them to be tested here probably based on their unverified claims that Nigeria has the most qualified practitioners as well as the best equipped laboratories in Africa.”
However, at the end of the conference, the stakeholders resolved that GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than natural varieties, stressing that the challenges of food production in Nigeria lie outside the realm of supposed solutions offered by genetic engineering.
They also resolved that NBMA must be held accountable to carry out regulatory duties thoroughly, adding that it is the responsibility of NBMA to maintain the lane of regulation and not to promote the use of GMOs in Nigeria or issue permits to GMO companies indiscriminately, without doing any due diligence.