We are not Guinea Pigs. Unjust, unsafe, unsustainable. These are the three key words that can be used to describe food systems based on genetic engineering and other chemical based agricultural systems that seek to pollute the environment and to overturn local knowledge, local food culture and local economies. Unjust because they are often introduced surreptitiously or illegally and without adequate information to the public. Unsafe because they are unnatural and because of the very process and nature of genetically engineered or modified organisms including by the inherent allergenicity of some of the organisms and the fact of some of them being basically insecticides. Unsustainable because they operate as monocultures and would eventually subvert African food systems, disrupt local economies, build dependency on agrotoxics and on monopolist seed companies.
The public needs to be repeatedly reminded that there is no evidence to assure the world of the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Products of modern agricultural genetic biotechnology are a real threat to our biodiversity, soils and ways of life. Pesticide crops do not only kill target pest but other beneficial organisms, including pollinators and those in human guts.
To gain a full understanding of the needless nature of GMOs, we must listen to our farmers, economists and scientists that are not tied to the apron strings of biotech corporations
We must never forget the fact that once GMOs are released into the environment they cannot be recalled and would persist, contaminate and literally poison our environment. There are proven agricultural systems that require government support through the provision of extension services, research, rural infrastructure and linkages of farms to markets. These are where our governments must step up to the plate. Literally.
We are talking about our right to know what is on our plates and our right to choose what we eat. It is worth saying again and again that what we eat must not eat us. We cannot allow forces that are against our best interests to drive our agricultural narrative and suggest that nutrition can only be manufactured in modern biotechnology laboratories. We must uncover every surreptitious effort to contaminate our agricultural and food systems. It is time to monitor our imports including those that come as food aid.
It is time to march against poison! Yesterday the world paused to think about our global environment. The theme for the day was Connecting People to Nature. The world resolved to Stand with Nature. GMOs do exactly the opposite – they don’t only disconnect us from Nature, the fight against Nature.
GMOs have been spectacular failures in Africa. GMO cotton failed with small scale farmers in South Africa’s Makhathini Flats. The crop recently failed and was banned in Burkina Faso. Investment on GMO cotton experimentations in Ghana have just entered the pause mode with the purveyor of the failed technology, Monsanto, withdrawing financial support.
It is incomprehensible that the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) would permit the commercial placement in the Nigerian environment of a crop that has failed in a resounding manner just across our borders. This is the time for Nigeria to retreat from the GMO path before more damage is done. Populist propaganda for the technology will never eliminate the fact that GMOs are marketing tools designed to secure profits for corporate entities and to secure political control for neo-colonial and imperial forces. GMOs are the current epitomes of colonialism via the gastronomic route. They are being pushed by external political and commercial interests into Africa and the Nigerian government and her agencies should not play the willing tool to be used as the window through which Africa would once more become enslaved by forces ranged against her interests. This must be stated very loudly because the public has a right to know. If the current government inherited a dangerous programme from the previous government it should be bold enough to distance itself from it. Environmental corruption is infinitely more deadly than monetary thievery. The fight against corruption must include against the corruption of our food systems, socio-cultural and ethical codes.
We reiterate that we have a right to know that GMOs are against our interests, including in the health, economic, social and cultural spheres. We have a right to know that the threats that GMOs pose to us are real, present and dangerously intergenerational. We have a duty to state categorically that there are tested and successful and viable farming practices that are safe and should be promoted. That route is provided by agroecology, a system that is independent of controlling political, agrochemical and seeds corporations.
We have a duty to insist that the weak biosafety laws being pushed across Africa, and in contradiction to existing African Model Law on Biosafety, are not in our best interest. They are laws set up to permit atrocious assault on our health, agricultural and food systems. The NBMA Act 2015 is a prime example of a law begging to the drastically revised or repealed outright. The law is replete with provisions that block public information, promote conflict of interests promotes vested interests and restricts avenues for adequate punishment for harm caused.
To gain a full understanding of the needless nature of GMOs, we must listen to our farmers, economists and scientists that are not tied to the apron strings of biotech corporations. This understanding should place a responsibility on all of us to demand food safety and reject attempts to force our peoples to become guinea pigs in needless and dangerous experimentations.
Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the Stakeholders Workshop on GMOs held at Apo Apartments, Abuja on 06 June 2017