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Home / Opinion / GM Food And Nigerian Promoters By MARIANN BASSEY-OROVWUJE

GM Food And Nigerian Promoters By MARIANN BASSEY-OROVWUJE

I read with amusement the off-the-wall allegations against the anti- GMO activists in a write up posted on News Express, amongst other allegations that we “supported the cancellation of permits granted to Monsanto…” Read here.

For GMO Promoters’ benefit, we restate our stand that the so-called permit issued to Monsanto by the Nigerian Biosafety Management Act (NBMA) on a public holiday to introduce GMOs into Nigeria should be overturned and the Biosafety law itself should be repealed.

It might interest Nigerians to know that recently, the Monsanto Tribunal constituting of five International judges presented in The Hague, their legal opinion after 6 months of analyzing the testimonies of more than 30 witnesses, lawyers and experts. They stated, ‘Monsanto’s practices undermine basic human rights and the right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health, it calls for better protective regulations for victims of multinational corporations and concludes that International law should clearly assert the protection of the environment and ‘ecocide’ as a crime’.

The Monsanto Tribunal found that Monsanto’s activities undermine basic human rights and Monsanto’s conduct has seriously undermined the right to freedom indispensable for scientific research

This ground-breaking advisory opinion reinforces and reaffirms our position and that of other movements, farmers and people all over the world: Monsanto ‘ is poisoning the Earth and millions of people, pushing small farmers off the land, allowing corporations to establish monopolies and take control of our seed and food – while producing only a small fraction of the planet’s food… The Tribunal’s findings are a decisive blow to corporate power and underscores the importance of the work of thousands of activists, farmers, consumers and citizens around the world in the fight for a future of food free from toxics, GMOs, patents and corporate control.’

In 2010, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine warned that evidence is strong enough that GMOs directly cause health harm to warrant warning people to avoid eating them. The academy noted that numerous studies and incidents have suggested that GMOs can cause problems including immune dysfunction, insulin disorders and damage to organs and the reproductive system, but according to Monsanto, and their cohorts in Nigeria, some masquerading as scientists and civil society actors, we have nothing to worry about, GMOs are very safe.

It is also instructive to remember that NBMA approved Monsanto’s Bt cotton despite the fact that our Neighbors Burkina-Faso, on the 14th of April, 2016, decided to discontinue planting the pesticide. Burkina Faso producers were unhappy with the short length of the fibre. According to Mana Denis, a cotton farmer in the western city of Dedougou, ‘We’ve lost years because of this cotton… They imposed it on us, but it didn’t produce the desired effects.” This is the same BT cotton that is been recycled here thanks to NBMA granting permits to Monsanto to bring this failed and risky product to our country Nigeria.
Least we forget, NBMA also approved the glysophate herbicide resistant maize despite the report by a World Health Organisation agency, IARC, that linked the active ingredient glyphosate to cancer. The IARC report was subject to many peer-reviewed studies; it was free from conflict of interests.

We note that nations like Sri Lanka amongst others, saw the risky nature of the toxic chemicals and took action by banning Monsanto’s round up herbicide because of its link to kidney disease.

Just weeks back an investigation carried out by EU observer and Dutch magazine One World, revealed that the EU’s conclusion that a potentially dangerous weed-killer was safe to sell was partially based on scientific evidence which was written or influenced by Monsanto, the manufacturer of the product. Earlier this year, a US court released a cache of hundreds of Monsanto’s internal emails that showed the firm’s involvement in at least two academic reports on glyphosate, sold under the trade name Roundup.

It worthy to note that the permits for the confined field trial of two maize varieties were issued jointly to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA). Note that NBDA is a BOARD MEMBER of NBMA. That is, we have a member of the board of NBMA working together with a company to get permits to bring in GMOs into Nigeria. The relationship between National Biosafety Agency (NBMA), National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and Monsanto is rife with conflict of interest against the Nigerian people. How is it that the regulated is so influential on the regulator? How can we have NABDA sit on the Board of NABMA, be a co-applicant with Monsanto and then sit to approve the application? This should fit into the definition of corruption and indeed should ‘attract government sanction’ as proposed by the GM Food Promoters.

Let’s go down memory lane. The National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), an ostensibly promoter of GMOs with their allies were one of the sponsors of the Public Hearing on the Biosafety Bill Organised by the Joint Committee on Science and Technology and Agriculture, ABUJA, 9th December 2009. The Key promoters of GMOs are the key pushers of GM crops and are at the same time urging the Nigerian government and people to accept their designer crops by ‘assisting’ to pass a watered-down Biosafety Act –that is clearly very, very, defective. Does this not qualify as ‘anti people’, and ‘anti government acts’ to say the least?

If GMOs are so safe as NBMA, NABDA and their scientists’ claim, why do we need a regulatory agency to protect people and environment from the very ‘safe’ GMOs? Do we need NBMA then?

The Promoters have acknowledged that Nigeria signed and ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety (CPB), in 2000 and 2003 respectively. The objective of the protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection of human health and biodiversity from potential risks of modern biotechnological practices. Parties to the protocol are required to domesticate the protocol through administrative and legal frame work. In this regard, Nigeria came up with the National Bio-safety Management Agency Act 2015, which heralds the National Bio-safety Management Agency.’

Bravo! They knew this, yet together with NABDA and other GMO promoting Agencies and Foundations, they facilitated a very weak, watered- down and undermined Biosafety Regime which is more or less a ‘permitting’ system instead of a BioSafety Regulation.
Nigeria clearly did not follow the tenets of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in the setting up of NMBA Act 2015. At the heart of that protocol is thePrecautionary Principle –the right of countries to ban or restrict the import and use of GE organisms when there is a lack of scientific knowledge or consensus regarding their safety. It explicitly recognizes a much needed Precautionary approach to the environmental release of GE organisms. This is clearly missing form NBMA Act 2015. For instance Article 23(2) of the Cartagena Protocol lays down affirmative obligations on Parties to: Consult the public in the decision-making process regarding LMOs; and make the results of such decisions available to the public. The language of the protocol is ‘SHALL’ not ‘MAY’ The language of NBMA Act 2015 is ‘May’, we all know what is legally binding. What ‘language’ NBMA Act based on?

Furthermore the hullabaloo by pro GMO Promoters and their Agencies that ‘The insinuation by anti-GMOs campaigners that the Act was rushed is far from the truth.’ No, it was not just rushed; it was done in a mad rush, which clearly reflects the lacunas, typos, references made to incorrect sections and to nonexistent sections. In fact that Act should be scrapped.
The general tone of the Act is clearly set for GMOs and products of GMOs imported for direct use as food, feed and industrial processing which is clearly at variance with the Cartagena Protocol that Nigerians ratified.

Monsanto and its corporate-driven revolution are not interested in our people or environment. These are business enterprises set up solely to make profits. It’s about time our Agencies choose us the people over these merchants.
Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje is a Lawyer and the Coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Program of Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Africa; and the Chair of AFSA.

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