Eco-Instigator #14

eco-instigator-14The year 2016 ran through so rapidly. And just as well. It had a store of horrors – extreme exploitation of nature’s re-sources, wars and repression, massive pollution, deforestation and unconscionable climate inaction. Will these let up in 2017?

While you ponder on what we must do as individuals and as collectives, we serve you another loaded edition of your Eco-Instigator. We share reports, statements and articles hoping that you will get sufciently instigated to step up and speak up as sons and daughters of Mother Earth.

As this edition was going to bed, we received news of the renewed aggression against our partner group, Accion Ecologica by the government of Ecuador. We note the tremendous global solidarity exhibited by individuals and groups from around the world in support of Accion Ecologica. This group is probably one of the foremost environmental justice organisations in the world today and deserves our support. They celebrated 30 years of existence in October 2016 at a grand ceremony held in the Che Guevara Auditorium of the Central University of Ecuador. At that event, several awards were given out to grassroots activists, journalists, academics and others. Yours truly was included in that exalted list in the category of calalysts of the defence of Nature. Here is the list for this category: Ricardo Carrere (late), from World Rainforest Movement (WRM) in Uruguay; Vandana Shiva, of Navdanya of India; The Corner House, of England; Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network of North America; Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria; Silvia Ribeiro from Mexico and Alberto Acosta from Ecuador.

From all of us at HOMEF we bring you the best wishes for a just 2017.

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Ecocide, Genocide from AgriToxics

 

Dr Jayasumana noted that in most things, Asian, African and Latin American countries follow the West. He, however, pleaded that in the case of Monsanto’s RoundUp all communities should follow Sri Lanka.

Monsanto Tribunal opened this morning at The Hague. A panel of five judges are hearing testimonies from victims and experts from across the world. Reports will be coming. We feel a need to share a clip from a post -testimony video conversation I had with Dr Channa Jayasumana of Sri Lanka. He spoke extensively on how 69,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives from chronic kidney disease traced to exposure to RoundUp. He mentioned in his testimony that most cases of chronic kidney failure can be traced to hypertension or diabetes. However, in the cases recorded the victims had no history of hypertension or diabetes. Following scientific evidence and years of studies and campaigns, the government of Sri Lanka banned the importation, distribution or use of Monsanto’s glyphosate based RoundUp in 2014.

Dr Jayasumana noted that in most things, Asian, African and Latin American countries follow the West. He then pleaded that in the case of Monsanto’s RoundUp all communities should follow Sri Lanka. This is a direct call to the Nigerian government to reconsider the approval given to Monsanto on Sunday 1st May 2016 to introduce GMOs into Nigeria. The permits issued in Nigeria demand the use of the same toxic weedkillers banned by Sri Lanka in 2014 after recorded genocidal impacts. Compounding the tragic trend is the the fact the Nigerian authorities approved for Monsanto to bring a failed Bt Cotton technology into the country.

More to come from the People’s Assembly and from the Monsanto Tribunal.

Only tests can assure Nigerians there is no GMO rice in Nigeria, says HOMEF

NABMA ogaOnly tests can assure Nigerians there is no GMO rice in Nigeria, says HOMEF 

HOMEF and other concerned groups are concerned that our regulatory agencies, such as NBMA and the NationalAgency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) may use the cover of “non official release of GMOs” to avoid monitoring the markets and thus allowing illegal flooding of our markets with risky and unhealthy GMOs.

The attention of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has been drawn to the response of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), through its Director General (DG) at a recent press conference, to the fears of Nigerians as to the presence of genetically modified (GMO) rice in the markets here. While trying to allay the fears of Nigerians, the DG was reported as stating that “there was no iota of truth in the report” and that no GM rice has either been imported or released officially into the country.

“The DG missed the point,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF in reaction to the NBMA response. “The clarification the agency should make is whether there is GMO rice in Nigeria even if such were brought in illegally. It is also not enough to say that since there are no known commercially grown GMO rice in the world and no legally released GMO rice in Nigeria, or since there is a ban on the importation of rice, therefore there is no imported rice in Nigeria. That argument cannot stand. The job of NBMA is not only to approve GMOs or to track only approved products. The Biosafety Agency has to oversee everything biosafety in Nigeria, illegal or not.”

On whether GMO rice has been commercially released anywhere in the world, we wish to recall that illegal LibertyLink variety 601 GMO rice was tested for and found in the Nigerian market by Friends of the Earth Nigeria in 2006 as well as in 2007. 

“I was part of the team that collected rice samples and we tested rice from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Cameroon,” says Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty campaigner of Friends of the Earth Africa/International. “That illegal rice variety was approved for release in the USA in November 2006 after complaints of its contamination was raised around the world. Indeed, at that time, the illegal rice was pulled off the shelves in some countries in Europe. Unless, and until, tests are conducted the assurances are mere talks.”

According to Gbadebo Vivour-Rhodes, ” the matter of GMO contamination of our foods cannot be waived off by hosting a press conference. NBMA should talk less and get to work on addressing fundamental deficiencies manifest in the regulatory system and ensuring that risky technologies are not allowed into Nigeria.”

HOMEF and other concerned groups are concerned that our regulatory agencies, such as NBMA and the NationalAgency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) may use the cover of “non official release of GMOs” to avoid monitoring the markets and thus allowing illegal flooding of our markets with risky and unhealthy GMOs.

“If NBMA has the laboratories and capacities it prides itself to have it should immediately audit all suspected food products in the Nigerian market, including those distributed to IDPs. Once suspicion is raised, it is results from laboratories that we want to hear about. The risk of contamination is always there and cannot be wished away,” Bassey added.

HOMEF reiterates its call for the urgent repeal or drastic review of the highly permissive NBMA Act 2015 to assure Nigerians of protection of our biodiversity and safety of our food systems. We also repeat our call for the withdrawal of permits hastily granted to Monsanto to conduct field trials of GMO maize and to grow GMO cotton in Zaria and neighbouring areas.

 

Cadmus Atake

Project officer

HOMEF 

 

For more information contact: cadmus@homef.org and home@homef.org

A Vote Against Genetic Extinction Technologies

Open letterGovernments and NGOs Vote Against Genetic Extinction TechnologiesPotentially Dangerous Genetic Engineering Tool Rejected by International Group of Scientists, Conservationists, and Leading Environmental Advocates

OAHU, HAWAI’I — As thousands of government representatives and conservationists convene in Oahu this week for the 2016 World Conservation Congress, international conservation and environmental leaders are sounding the alarm about the use of gene drives — a controversial new synthetic biology technology intended to intentionally cause species to become extinct. In a digital vote release August 26 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, scientists and government representatives voted overwhelmingly for IUCN and its commissions to adopt a de facto moratorium on support or endorsement of research into gene drives for conservation or other purposes. News of the vote comes as an important open letter is published on the topic.

Scientists and environmental experts and organizations from around the globe  have advocated for a halt to proposals for the use of gene drive technologies in conservation. Announced today, a long list of environmental leaders, including Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, genetics professor and broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Fritjof Capra, entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Indian environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, environmental justice advocate Nnimmo Bassey and organic pioneer and biologist Nell Newman, have lent their support to an open letter, “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation.” The letter states, in part: “Gene drives, which have not been tested for unintended consequences, nor fully evaluated for ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as conservation tools.”

“Gene drives are basically a technology that aims for a targeted species to go extinct,” explains ecologist and entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, President of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). “While this may appear to some conservationist professionals to be a ‘good’ thing and a ‘silver bullet’ to handle complicated problems, there are high risks of unintended consequences that could be worse than the problems they are trying to fix.”

Both the leading developers of the technology and also those concerned about gene drives will be attending this week’s congress and holding events to raise awareness, hype promises or highlight the potential hazards of gene drives. One near-term gene drive proposal, promoted by U.S.-based non-governmental organization Island Conservation, intends to release gene drive mice on islands to eradicate them. Another led by the University of Hawai’i would develop gene drive mosquitoes for use in Hawaii to combat avian malaria which affects honeycreeper birds. The debate around gene drives is likely to resurface later this year at the negotiations of the United Nations Biodiversity Convention in Cancun Mexico in December.

“Gene drives, also known as ‘mutagenic chain reactions,’ aims to alter DNA so an organism always passes down a desired trait, hoping to change over time the genetic makeup of an entire species,” explains Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya. “This technology would give biotech developers an unprecedented ability to directly intervene in evolution, to dramatically modify ecosystems, or even crash a targeted species to extinction.”

“To lose sight of the problem of biodiversity loss in favor of false solutions and short-term techno-fixes such as gene drives is a dangerous path,” said Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth. “There are real community-based conservation efforts that are truly sustainable and should be scaled up and supported. We are very concerned gene drives will drive forward destructive agricultural practices or be used for military purposes — speculative conservation claims are at best an unfounded diversion or smokescreen.”

Signatories of the letter, which include indigenous organizations and legal experts, raised legal and moral questions, citing an “ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great restraint.”

“From military testing to GMO crops, and now gene drives, Hawai’i should not be treated as a test zone for risky and experimental technologies,” said Walter Ritte, Native Hawaiian activist and hunter. “What happens in Hawai’i must be discussed with residents, not decided from a lab on the other side of the continent. Hawaiians should decide what is best for Hawai’i.”

Some of the signing organizations will be holding a Knowledge Café event as part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress at 8:30 am (HST) on Monday, September 5. The event will be live streamed at http://www.synbiowatch.org/gene-drives.

In response to upcoming proposals to release gene drive organisms in Hawaii, the local organization Hawai’i SEED will be hosting an educational session on gene drives in the evening on Tuesday, September 6.  See http://bit.ly/2bwZEuG for details.

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Note to editors:

  1. A short briefing outlining concerns about gene drives prepared by the Civil Society Working Group on Gene Drives is available at http://www.synbiowatch.org/2016/08/reckless-driving/. A copy of the letter “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation” and a complete list of signatories is available at http://www.synbiowatch.org/gene-drives-letter/.
  2. The organizers of the letter are inviting other organizations to join as signatories. Additional organizational signatures can be sent to: genedrives@synbiowatch.org.
  3. More details about the Island Conservation Project to release gene drive mice are available in this article: http://baynature.org/article/re-coding-conservation/. Plans to develop gene drives for Hawaii are being developed by the lab of Dr. Floyd A, Reed of Hawaii University: http://hawaiireedlab.com/wpress/?p=2270.
  4. The IUCN Motion on Synthetic Biology and Conservation (motion no 95) was supported by 71 Governments and 355 NGO’s (out of a total of 544 votes cast). It includes the following amendment on Gene Drives: “CALLS UPON the Director General and Commissions with urgency to assess the implications of Gene Drives and related techniques and their potential impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity as well as equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources, in order to develop IUCN guidance on this topic, while refraining from supporting or endorsing research, including field trials, into the use of gene drives for conservation or other purposes until this assessment has been undertaken”. A breakdown of the vote was today made available to IUCN members.

Expert contacts: Dana Perls, (925) 705-1074, dperls@foe.org; Jim Thomas, (514) 516-5759 jim@etcgroup.org

Communications contacts: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org; Trudi Zundel, (266) 979-0993, trudi@etcgroup.org

Further contact: You can also reach us at home@homef.org for more information

Nigerian Biotech Experts Met

Biosafety Act reviewWhen Nigerian Biotech Experts Met. If anyone needs sensitisation in Nigeria about GMOs, it is the biotech promoters. They need to be sensitised that Nigerians don’t want GMOs and certainly do not want to be ambushed into eating what they do not want to eat. We have a right to choose what we eat. No one should have anything forced down his or her throat. There are other areas that modern biotechnology can focus on without having to tamper with our food systems in a process that would also introduce toxic chemicals that accompany their herbicide tolerant monocultures.

Three Nigerian ministries had top level representation at the Biotechnology and Biosafety Experts Meeting at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja on 15 August 2016. The Minister and Minister of State for Environment were present. So were the Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as the Minister of Science. Interestingly, rather than the Minister of Science making remarks at the opening session of this meeting, he ceded the space to the Director General (DG) of the Nigerian Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).

In his remarks, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, asked, ‘Who will educate the politicians?’ That quote, he informed the gathering, was from a one-time president of the USA, Richard Nixon.  He then went on to say that genetic engineering is about science but that it had a cloud of fear, doubts, sentiments and political agitation hanging over it. He pointedly stated that at the end of the day ‘science will prevail.’ Probably because his comments were brief, he did not expatiate on what he meant by that statement. He, however, said that the truth lay somewhere between the fears and the facts.

When the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, took the floor she emphasised that the meeting was a starting point from where further conversations would be held and the larger public would have the opportunity to weigh in. She stressed the need to invest in knowledge and to strengthen the nation’s biosafety policy. She also touched on the communication gap between the scientists and the public. According to her, the wide store of indigenous knowledge must not be ignored in the building of broader understanding of the issues at stake. She generally called for healthy debates on the issues.

time-goldenrice-228x300

GMOs Prime poster: 2000 Time Magazine cover

The progress of golden rice is not hampered by Greenpeace but by its failure to deliver on its promoters’ promises.

The outcome of the meeting has been presented to the public as being a plan by the Federal Government to sensitise Nigerians on the benefit of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). To some of us that were at that meeting we would not endorse such a summation. Why do we say so?

The meeting, although jointly called by the three ministries mentioned above, was driven by Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), a biotech industry (non governmental?) organisation headed by an assistant director in NABDA and deeply embedded in NABDA. Indeed, before the meeting started, a continuous stream of video clips were used to serenade participants with the success stories of GMOs and the wonderful process that gave birth to Nigeria’s National Biosafety Management Act 2015 and the National Biosafety management Agency (NBMA). When the Minister of Science gave way to the Director General of NABDA, she took the stage to sell GMOs to the crowd of mostly converts to the technology. Those of us with strong doubts and who reject modern biotechnology as the panacea for Nigeria food issues were a token sprinkle you could count on the fingers of one hand.

The Director General stated that GMOs started from the time of Adam and Eve in the Biblical Garden of Eden. Imagine modern biotechnology as old as Adam and Eve. She further on cited the roundly discredited letter signed by 109 Nobel Prize laureates that claimed that Greenpeace was hampering the adoption of the so-called Golden or GMO rice engineered for enhanced levels of vitamin A. The truth is that the rice in question is yet a failed project and is not hampered by anyone other than its failure to deliver on its promoters’ promises. The Institute of Science in Society and the Third World Network had this to say of the Golden Rice: The ‘golden rice’ – a GM rice engineered to produce pro-Vitamin A – is being offered to the Third World as cure for widespread vitamin A deficiency.[Our] audit uncovers fundamental deficiencies in all aspects, from the scientific/social rationale well as financially bankrupt agricultural biotech industry. The scientific/social rationalization for the project exposes a reductionist self-serving scientific paradigm that fails to see the world beyond its own narrow confines. The ‘golden rice’ is a useless application. Some 70 patents have already been filed on the GM genes and constructs used in making the ‘golden rice’. It is a drain on public resources and a major obstruction to the implementation of sustainable agriculture that can provide the real solutions to world hunger and malnutrition.

There were three panels, all of which had a paper presenter followed by panel discussions. The first panel was on the Socio-Economic Effects of GMOs and the lead presenter was Prof Ishyaku Mohammed, a key player in the development of GMO beans in Nigeria. The second panel was on Strengthening Biosafety Institutional Framework with Jeremy T. Ouedraogo – Head of NEPAD West African Biosafety Network Regional Office of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise. The third panel looked at Strategies for Effective Education and Communication. The lead presenter here was Prof. Diran Makinde, Senior Adviser, African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE).

Some of us do not accept that nutrition and food security must be manufactured in science laboratories. And we should never forget that Nature is the ultimate scientist. The wise person works with Nature because fights against Nature are not only often futile but could become fatal.

The good thing about this meeting was that there were some voices on the panels speaking up on the known socio-economic, health and environmental dangers of GMOs and citing examples of countries that have banned agricultural/food applications of the technology. The biotech promoters used the platform to characterise food sovereignty campaigners as acting out scripts of supposed funders in exchange for a life of luxury in air-conditioned officers, cars and what not. The response to that was that this was cheap blackmail that would not deter opposition to risky technologies.

In the panel on strengthening biosafety institutional framework, the lead speaker mentioned two errors that National Biosafety laws could fall into were either being too permissive or being too restrictive. A close look at the National Biosafety Management Act 2015 shows that it is highly permissive and was couched for easy entrance of GMOs and related products in Nigeria. We gave examples. First is the fact that the Governing Board of NBMA is populated by biotech promoters, besides the statutory membership of federal ministries. The only slot for NGOs is conditioned on the representative being from a conservation NGO. Membership of the Board includes NABDA, an agency set up to promote GMOs in Nigeria. This agency teamed up with Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited to apply and receive permission to conduct confined field trials of two GMO maize events in Nigeria. This shows a clear case of conflict of interest and we duly called for the removal of NABDA from the board of the Biosafety Agency. If NABDA partners with Monsanto we need to be convinced that they are depending solely on funds from the Ministry of Science for the discharge of their duties and that they are working under undue external influences.

Neither farmers nor consumers are represented on the NBMA board. Indeed, the Biosafety Board as presently constituted by the Act can be seen as an old boys’ club. If, as was agreed at this meeting that, the Biosafety Act is basically not to stop GMO, we need to know if it is NBMA’s duty to promote GMOs.

We also stressed that there should be a board that would consider recommendations of the Biosafety Agency before permits for GMOs are granted or rejected. At present decisions by the leadership of the Biosafety Agency with regard to applications are not subject to any form of oversight in the Act. This must be redressed. Recommendations should be subjected to consideration by either the Agency’s Board or preferably by an inter-ministerial committee. It is too risky and utterly dangerous to place the food safety and future of Nigeria into the hands of one person. The GMO approvals given to Monsanto and their partner NABDA, were approved within a few months of the filing of the applications – a record of Olympian proportions.

The present Act allows for the display and receipt of comments on GMO applications to be made within only 21 days. In the case of the approval for Monsanto’s GMO cotton, the application was displayed only at Zaria and Abuja. There was no public hearing or consultation before the approval was given. The Agency was acting as empowered by the clearly deficient Act. This must be rectified to ensure that sufficient time is given for submission of objections/comments and that there are public hearings before decisions are made. Such applications must also be displayed at accessible locations across the nation and where possible in language that the public can understand.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s review and comments of the Nigerian Biosafety Act identifies many loopholes that raise red flags about the Act and thus demand action.  http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/national-biosafety-act-homef-review.pdf That is the Act that one of the lead presenters declared is so robust it requires no review!

Knowing the trend in development of GMOs – veering towards extreme biotechnology such as gene-editing and what is termed gene drives, scientists are working to overturn nature, avoid the sharing of traits that happens in natural reproduction, and instead pass on a predetermined trait in every reproductive event, to the extent that wiping out species through having offsprings that are of same sex becomes a possibility. The danger in this trajectory is that for some organisms a release of just one engineered individual could wipe out all relatives in the environment over a short period of time. Experiments are ongoing on utilising this technology to fight rats on an island.

If the public requires sensitisation, what is needed is to inform the public about the Biosafety Act, so that Nigerians can judge for themselves whether GMOs are the solution to food shortages in Nigeria. It is also essential so that the public would know their rights or lack of rights in the biosafety administration in Nigeria.

Some of us do not accept that nutrition and food security must be manufactured in science laboratories. And we should never forget that Nature is the ultimate scientist. The wise person works with Nature because fights against Nature are not only often futile but could become fatal.

It cannot be the duty of government to sensitise Nigerians about the desirability of GMOs. Government has a duty to assure Nigerians that we have a sound and truly robust Biosafety Act that they can depend on for environmental and food safety. The biotech promoters should campaign for funding from government to carry out their experiments in their laboratories and continue to build knowledge and expertise. We are fed by smallholder farmers and experts assure that it will remain so into the future. GMOs are not silver bullets that solve all problems. Our farmers need extension services, rural infrastructure and access to markets. We must learn from the failure of GMO cotton in India, Pakistan, Burkina Faso (watch the video) and elsewhere. Having experts make excuse for a failing and risky technology cannot be said to be the best way to do science.

If anyone needs sensitisation in Nigeria about GMOs, it is the biotech promoters. They need to be sensitised that Nigerians don’t want GMOs and certainly do not want to be ambushed into eating what they do not want to eat. We have a right to choose what we eat. No one should have anything forced down his or her throat. There are other areas that modern biotechnology can focus on without having to tamper with our food systems in a process that would also introduce toxic chemicals that accompany their herbicide tolerant monocultures.

 

 

 

Eco-Instigator #12’s Home Run

Eco-Instigator #12New edition of your Eco-Instigator is here!

The second quarter of 2016 was a roller-coaster season. Highlights include the continued struggles to save our last remaining rainforests in the Cross River axis of Nigeria. Threatened communities (Edondon, Okokori, Old and New Ekuri) as well as non-governmental organisations have worked to ensure that the proposed Superhighway does not decimate community forests, displace communities and lock in poverty in the resource-rich territory. HOMEF spent three days (9-11th June 2016) in some of the communities, facilitating dialogues and offering training on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as advocacy and ecological/forest defence tool. The collaboration of NGOCE, Peace Point Action, GREENCODE, Lokiaka Community Development Centre and Rural Action for Green Environment was invaluable.

May 10, 12 and 14 were special days for us within the Global Breakfree from Fossil Fuels mobilisations. HOMEF marched and held teach-ins at Oloibiri (Bayelsa State), the site of the first oil well in Nigeria, Bori – Ogoni (Rivers State) and Ibeno on the Atlantic coast of Akwa Ibom State. Nigeria. The events sent strong calls for the clean-up of the Niger Delta and reiterated our call to Keep the Oil in the Ground. Actions in 14 other countries underscored the vital importance of these climate actions. The Breakfree events succeeded because of the strong support of 350.org, Chief Nengi James Foundation, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Social Action, Peoples Advancement Centre, Kabetkache Women Development Centre, Peace Point Action and several others. We bring you reports and photos from the events.

For three days, environmental experts and stakeholders met in Abuja to strategize on what would be the policy direction for environmental governance in Nigeria. We bring you a report from that gathering.

A dark blot on our horizon has been the granting of permits for Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd to introduce GMOs in Nigeria. We bring you a report from a major Biosafety Conference we co-hosted with the African Faith and Justice Network and other groups in Abuja in May 2016. We also bring you statements and essays on the GMO debacle and the continuing struggle to keep the risky, needless, technology off our lands.

In addition, Our Sustainability Academy #07 held at the University of Abuja on 15th June and at LUFASI Nature Park, Lagos on 17th June 2016. We as as Instigators, Hilma Mote of Africa Labour Research Institute and Ruth Nyambura, ace eco-feminist. They examined the climate change COP21 with the perspectives of the youths, geo-politics and continental challenges. Both instigators became HOMEF Fellows at a ceremony at LUFASI Nature Park, with foremost environmentalist, Desmond Majekodunmi, presenting their fellowship plaques.

The clean up of Ogoni and the Niger Delta was flagged off on 2nd June 2016. That date became a clear milestone in the struggles for the remediation of our extremely polluted Niger Delta. HOMEF was there when it happened. And we are keeping a deeply interested watch over developments in that direction.

As usual we serve you poetry, book reviews and books we suggest that you read. And, do not forget that we are always happy to hear back from you.

Read the full issue here: Eco-Instigator#12

Until Victory!

 

 

GMOs Threaten our Food Security and Food Sovereignty

IMG_0764GMOs Threaten our Food Security

GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than natural crops. They promote monocultures and will promote land grabbing and thus displace and impoverish small scale farmers. GMOs depend on toxic agrochemicals that are not friendly to soils and ecosystems. They are a clear threat to food security.

Some of the comments made by Rose Gidado as reported under the title, Nigeria Not At Crossroads Over Food Security – Agency Chief (published in The Guardian on 8th July 2016) must have been based on questions that were not accurately posed to her. It could also be that her comments were based on faulty notes she took at the conference she referred to. She came to the conference without being invited by the main hosts, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and African Faith and Justice Network (AFJN).

As an Assistant Director at National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and as the coordinator of Open Forum for Biotechnology (OFAB) in Nigeria, she has links to two institutions that have as their mandate the promotion of GMOs and placement of their products in the Nigerian market and on the dining tables of citizens of this country. Some of us have queried the place and role of NABDA on the Governing Board of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) – an agency set up to regulate the activities of GMO promoters in the country. The place of GMO promoters on the board of a regulatory agency raises questions of conflict of interest as already evidenced by their teaming up with Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd to apply for a permit for confined field trials of Monsanto’s GMO maize, to which assent was given in record time of less than two months from the date the application was advertised for comments from the public.

The comment at the conference under reference that modern biotechnology can be compared to a cowboy technology was made by me. This was an allusion to the use of “gene guns” in the process of insertion of the genetic materials that the technologists may have prepared. As with any shooting activity, it does happen that at times the genetic engineers shoot off target. At other times when they hit their desired target they can not really be so sure of what the outcome would be. One top GMO promoter said recently that GMO cotton failed in Burkina Faso because of insertion of the genetic material in a wrong germplasm. This was said on television and confirms that genetic engineering is not as precise as the biotech industry would want us to believe. It is a technology searching for problems and feeding fat on false promises and hype.

It should also be noted that the insertion of genetic materials from fish into GMO tomato is not a fictional tale. A biotech company, DNA Plant Technology of Oakland, California, actually put the fish gene in a tomato. The GMO tomato was discontinued because of the public uproar that followed its creation. See the story at The Monsanto GMO Story: Adding a Fish Gene Into Tomatoes.

The notion that GMOs are part of a safe technology “needed to achieve developmental strides in economic diversification, food security, improved health systems, cleaner energy, job creation, wealth generation and poverty reduction, Nigeria” is contestable. Agricultural modern biotechnology poses peculiar problems to any environment. No wonder the industry survives largely through their political clout and by the open door policy they have with regulators that are at the same time promoters.

The fact that tampering with nature has impacts on religious, social and cultural sensibilities cannot be denied. Neither should it be described as unfortunate. It is the reality. Applied science must be alive to these sensibilities because science must be in the interest of society. And, in any case, we cannot be bullied into silence by the claim that science is neutral.

Science may be right when it says that every living thing can ultimately be broken down to carbon, for instance. Perhaps the basic building blocks of our bodies are similar across species. But some persons may not feel happy to have genes from a pig inserted in rice, for instance.

No matter what NABDA, OFAB and NBMA say, Nigerians have solid reasons to worry about the opening of the doors of our agriculture and food systems to risky technologies.

The fact that science is often not neutral is very much illustrated by goings on in research on genetic engineering, including new areas such as synthetic biology, gene editing and gene drives. Critical scientists continue to be hounded out of jobs or into silence. Those who dance to the tunes of the biotech industry and their political backers flourish on the other hand.

The GMO cotton and maize varieties for which permits have been issued with the active support of NABDA and OFAB pose special risks to our environment. One reason we worry is that the crops are all engineered by Monsanto to withstand their weed killer Roundup of which a key constituent chemical is known as glyphosate. Just like debates raged on whether other toxic chemicals were safe, the debate is on concerning glyphosate. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that glyphosate is probably a carcinogen, based on research carried out by its (WHO’s) research arm and later became more ambivalent. However, the researchers affirm that they stand by their findings.

GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than natural crops. They promote monocultures and will promote land grabbing and thus displace and impoverish small scale farmers. GMOs depend on toxic agrochemicals that are not friendly to soils and ecosystems. They are a clear threat to food security.

No matter what NABDA, OFAB and NBMA say, Nigerians have solid reasons to worry about the opening of the doors of our agriculture and food systems to risky technologies.