How Safe are Monsanto’s GMOs?

GMOs are basically regulated because their safety is in doubt. The approval granted Monsanto to conduct field trials of genetically modified maize requires that these crops should keep a distance of 20m from non GMO farms. That is absolute nonsense and is designed to ensure that our natural maize varieties are contaminated. It is known that pollen grains travel several kilometres. Contamination has been one key tool used by Monsanto in countries like USA and Canada to chase after non-GMO farmers that actually are the victims of this companies polluting activities.

eco-4_0We have read with interest Monsanto’s defence of NBMA in its response to Premium Time’s report highlighting NBMA’s surreptitious granting of permits to them to bring their GMOs and glyphosate into Nigeria. We restate here that Monsanto’s applications were approved without due diligence and that the law setting up NBMA is extremely flawed in that it gives individuals in the agency the latitude to toy with the health of Nigerians, our environment and food systems. Contrary to Monsanto’s claims, IARC concluded that there was strong evidence of genotoxicity and oxidative stress for glyphosate entirely from publicly available research, including findings of DNA damage in the peripheral blood of exposed humans.

May we be reminded once again that NBMA signed the permits on a Sunday – a public holiday, when government offices were closed and just one month and a few days after the applications were opened to the public for comments. NBMA says it was “convinced that there are no known adverse impacts to the conservation and sustainable use to of biodiversity taking into account risk to human health.” However, it is instructive to note that the BT cotton submitted or rather recycled in Nigeria by Monsanto is a replica of the BT Cotton application that it had submitted in Malawi in 2014. That application  in Malawi was opposed on scientific,  legal and socio-economic grounds. That application has not been approved at the time of this writing. They recycled the application here and we opposed that application on similar grounds.

Monsanto argues that their GMOs and their weed killers are safe. The truth is that the company is good at avoiding liability while exploiting the agencies that ought to regulate them. They claim, “A big part of that confidence comes from knowing that independent experts who’ve looked at GMOs have concluded that they’re as safe as other foods. That includes groups like the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, as well as government agencies like the FDA.”

This is an interesting argument. We quote two statements, one from Monsanto and the other from FDA and leave the public to read between the lines.

Philip Angell, a Monsanto’s director of corporate communications said: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”

For the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”

When Monsanto and FDA makes statements like these, the reading is that consumers are left to literally stew in their soups.

In the words of David Schubert, Professor and Head of Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, La Jolla, California;

“One thing that surprised us is that US regulators rely almost exclusively on information provided by the biotech crop developer, and those data are not published in journals or subjected to peer review… The picture that emerges from our study of US regulation of GM foods is a rubber-stamp ‘approval process’ designed to increase public confidence in, but not ensure the safety of, genetically engineered foods.”

This is exactly what is happening in Nigeria today, unfortunately. We have an agency that disrespects the voices of the people, ignores national interests and blatantly promotes the interests of biotech corporations. 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? The evidence in leaked Wikileaks cables  is clear. How can we have NABDA sit on the Board of NBDA, be a co-applicant with Monsanto and then sit to approve the application? This should fit into the definition of corruption in this season of Change.

Monsanto has been desperate to tell the world that their weed killer laced with the ingredient known as glyphosate is safe. The debate about the safety of glyphosate has been interesting with Monsanto in this response to Premium times claiming that “glyphosate poses no unreasonable risks to humans or the environment when used according to label instructions.”

The above claim says two or more things. First that glyphosate poses risks. Secondly that this risk can be tolerated when the chemical is used according to label instructions. Thirdly, when something goes wrong, Monsanto will absolve itself of culpability by claiming that the chemical was not used “according to label instructions.”

The scientific debate over whether glyphosate causes cancer continues, but based on research several countries have banned the use of the chemical. The very fact that there is no consensus on the safety of glyphosate is the reason why Nigeria must apply the precautionary principle. It is interesting that Monsanto accuses IARC of selective interpretation of scientific data. This is a case of a kettle calling a pot black. We doubt if there is any other corporation that engages in selective interpretation of data more than Monsanto.

Despite Monsanto’s claims that glyphosate is safe, French Minister for Health, Marisol Touraine has said that France will ban Glyphosate – whether or not the EU decides this week to renew the authorisation of the chemical. According to her “the studies we have show it’s an endocrine disruptor.”

Earlier this year, a poll by the international market research firm YouGov found that two-thirds of Europeans want the chemical banned. According to the survey of more than 7,000 people across the EU’s five biggest states, the banning of glyphosate was supported by 75% of Italians, 70% of Germans, 60% of French and 56% of Britons.  It is clear so many people around the globe do not want Monsanto’s modified crops or toxic chemicals, so why are they still aggressively pushing and promoting it around the world; dismissing environmental, heath, socio- economic concerns and circumventing government regulations?

Talking about research, a high court in Paris  punished a high ranking official representing Monsanto’s interests for deceitfully covering up research data proving that Monsanto was hiding toxicity of its own corn.

Another report revealed that Monsanto marketed its potent weed killer glyphosate, a key element in their Roundup, and the corn and soybeans genetically engineered to withstand it by claiming that it would replace other, more toxic weed killers such as atrazine on American farmland. It didn’t happen. Recent scientific research suggests that both atrazine and glyphosate are more harmful than scientists once thought. For instance, several studies have shown that frequent exposure to glyphosate doubles a person’s risk of developing a blood cancer known as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “In light of new evidence on the dangers of glyphosate, European Union nations failed to pass a short-term extension of glyphosate’s license for agricultural use when they voted on this on June 6, 2016. The pesticide could be barred in the EU as soon as next month.”

From the antecedents of Monsanto when it comes to cutting corners when it comes to risk assessments we have   no inclination to give it any benefit doubt.

There was a time when scientists insisted that cigarettes do not cause cancer. Today that has been exposed as a lie. Monsanto claims that their liability over PCB is over an historical misdemeanour. This is another problem with Nigeria’s Biosafety Act. If problems emerge in future over toxic chemicals introduced into the Nigerian environment today, Monsanto will go free because the law does not have provisions for strict liability. Meanwhile we remind ourselves that if toxic PCB is in history, so is Monsanto’s Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam war and the toxic template on which the company continues the business of killing biodiversity.

GMOs are basically regulated because their safety is in doubt. The approval granted Monsanto to conduct field trials of genetically modified maize requires that these crops should keep a distance of 20m from non GMO farms. That is absolute nonsense and is designed to ensure that our natural maize varieties are contaminated. It is known that pollen grains travel several kilometres. Contamination has been one key tool used by Monsanto in countries like USA and Canada to chase after non-GMO farmers that actually are the victims of this companies polluting activities.

Our agricultural systems, eating habits and cultural requirements are not the same as those of Americans, for example, and bringing these crops into our country will expose us to unimaginable health impacts.

We would also be closing markets against ourselves. A case in point is a recent refusal of Brazil to buy corn from the USA, due to GMO concerns, even in the face of shortage of corn needed in chicken feed. Note that Brazil is a country already with other varieties of GMOs!

Finally, we ask, are we so stupid that a genetically modified crop, Bt Cotton, that just failed in neighbouring Burkina Faso, (and the farmers are making claims from Monsanto) is what we are glibly opening our country to? Are we having regulators or GMO traders making decisions over our destiny?

Monsanto should note that its We the People of Nigeria, not Corporations and agrochemical Companies like Monsanto that will dictate the food system we want.

We restate our stand that the so-called permit issued to Monsanto to introduce GMOs into Nigeria should be overturned and the Biosafety law itself should be repealed. We also call on the National Assembly to urgently investigate the process leading to the granting of the permit on Sunday, 1st May 2016 to assure Nigerians that we are not pawns in a commercial game to open Africa to toxic technologies.

By Nnimmo Bassey, Mariann Bassey Orovwuje and Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour

 

 

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