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

 

 

Nigeria’s Biosafety Agency Dances to Monsanto’s Tune

 

NABMA ogaNigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Defies FG, Nigerians, Permits Deployment of GMOs in Nigeria

Despite the promise of the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country” and the concerted efforts by over 5 million Nigerians (made up of 100 groups comprising farmers, faith-based organizations, civil society groups, students and local farmers) to prevent the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton and maize into Nigeria’s foods and farming system, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has issued  two  permits, one for the Commercial Release and Placing on Market of genetically modified cotton and  the other for the confined field  trial  of maize, to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited.

The two permits have been posted on NBMA website. They were signed by the Director-General of NBMA, Mr. Rufus Ebegba on Sunday, 1st May, 2016 (a public holiday) and issued to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. The first is entitled: “Permit for Commercial release/ Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) genetically modified for lepidopteran insect pest resistance” with Permit No: NBMA/CM/IM/001.[1] The second is entitled: “Permit for Confined Field Trial (CFT) of maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603) genetically modified for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance” with Permit No: NBMA/C FT/001.[2]

Reacting to the development, Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Mother Health Foundation – one of the groups in the front line of the resistance, “This is extremely shocking. Little wonder officials of NBMA, National Biotech Development Agency (NABDA) and their pro GMO train have been fighting tooth and nail to fool Nigerians by claiming that GMOs are safe! They approved the poorly concocted applications and issued these permits on a Sunday when government offices do not open. In fact, 2nd May was also a public holiday.”

According to Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty Campaigner, “several main areas of concern had been identified regarding objections to the release (and placement in the market) of GM Cotton and confined field trial of Maize in Nigeria. There are serious concerns and they include amongst many: health concerns, environmental concerns, socio-economic concerns, technical and administrative concerns, molecular concerns, safety assessments, environment risk assessment, secondary pests and insect resistance and many more concerns have been extensively laid out in our submissions to NBMA objecting to Monsanto’s applications.”

Screen shot

NBMA approved Monsanto’s proposal for Bt cotton despite the fact that on the 14th of April, 2016, our neighbours, Burkina-Faso’s cabinet announced their goal to reduce the acreage for genetically modified cotton this season until it’s completely phased out in 2018 and replaced by conventional cotton. The reached that decision because GMO cotton yielded shorter fibres and they were thus suffering economic loses.

In the objection to Monsanto’s applications[3], the concerned Nigerians stated that in its application MON 15985, Monsanto is using genes referred to as cry2Ab2 and cry1Ac, which produce Bt toxins that have been synthetically manufactured with no history of safe use in nature. The insertion of the antibiotic resistant marker gene (ARMG) causes concerns regarding the potential transfer of antibiotic resistance to other living organisms. This concern, which is dismissed by the applicant, has been raised by a scientific panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating that this particular ARMG should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market – unfortunately this is what NBMA has released into the Nigerian market.

The groups also complained that there is no baseline data regarding the quantity, spread and use of cottonseed meal/cakes/ oil used for human or animal consumption in Nigeria, and therefore no foundation for the assessment of food and feed safety.

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, a concerned consumer, sees NBMA’s decisions as grossly faulty. He finds “the claim of the agency shocking when it claims that in arriving ‘at this decision the National Biosafety Management Agency took into consideration the advice of National Biosafety Committee National Biosafety Technical Sub-committee and public views… The Agency was convinced that there are no known adverse impacts to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity taking into account risk to human health.’ The agencies they consulted are in the business of promoting these toxic and risky GMOs in Nigeria. We do not also know which public NBMA consulted.”

Nnimmo Bassey concurred, “We have always said the NBMA Act of 2015 is gravely defective, because its governing board is filled with GMO promoters such as NABDA and the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria. Those GMO promoters are concerned with ensuring the profit of biotech entrepreneurs rather than the health and environmental concerns of Nigerians. A case in point is that NABDA a member of the Board of NBMA is a co-sponsor with Monsanto of the application for the field trials of the GMO maize. We are also appalled that an agency saddled with defending Nigeria’s biodiversity is actively promoting these risky technologies.”

NBMA approved Monsanto’s proposal for Bt cotton despite the fact that on the 14th of April, 2016, our neighbours, Burkina-Faso’s cabinet announced their goal to reduce the acreage for genetically modified cotton this season until it’s completely phased out in 2018 and replaced by conventional cotton. The reached that decision because GMO cotton yielded shorter fibres and they were thus suffering economic loses.

NBMA approved the glysophate herbicide resistant maize despite the IARC report[4], that linked the active ingredient glyphosate to cancer. It is no surprise that nations like Sri Lanka, amongst others, heeded and took action by banning Monsanto’s round up herbicide because of its link to Kidney disease. That NBMA is considering giving us this “trojan horse” gift is indeed unfortunate knowing the low level of use of protective gears by our rural farmers and communities living close to farms.  References used in support of claims made by Monsanto are too old and none referred to the two GM maize events specifically but are general references for normal maize research. This may be due to the lack of thorough scientific peer-reviewed research carried out in support of the claims made in the application, or is a deliberate effort at hiding information. We note that no details of feeding studies whatsoever were provided by the applicant

NABDA, a member of the Board of NBMA, is a co-sponsor with Monsanto of the application for the field trials of the GMO maize. We are also appalled that an agency saddled with defending Nigeria’s biodiversity is actively promoting these risky technologies.

No data is given on the safety of the chemicals to which the events are resistant, namely glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs). In fact, no information on experiments carried out has been made available. The application is of extremely poor quality. The application ends on page 50 without comprehensive information on insect pest resistance, which is a critical aspect of the information required to justly appraise the application in relation to the insect-resistance trait and in particular to purpose 3 of the field trials to evaluate the efficacy of the MON 89034 × NK603 against certain Lepidopteran pests.

Throughout the application, Monsanto asserts that NK603 and MON 89034 × NK603 are equivalent to conventional maize.   The theory of ‘equivalence’ is a worn out argument that has been discredited by independent science, including in a joint South Africa – Norway biosafety project published in 2011. (See SANBI (2011). Monitoring the environmental impacts of GM maize in South Africa: The outcomes of the South Africa – Norway biosafety co-operation project (2008 – 2010). Department of Environmental Affairs.[5]

NBMA Approved this herbicide resistant GMO knowing full well that The EU nations have refused to back a limited extension of the pesticide glyphosate’s use, threatening withdrawal of Monsanto’s Roundup and other weed killers from shelves if no decision is reached by the end of this month.

Commenting on the decision, Bart Staes MEP environment and food safety spokesperson said: “We applaud those EU governments who are sticking to their guns and refusing to authorise this controversial toxic herbicide. There are clear concerns about the health risks with glyphosate, both as regards it being a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. Moreover, glyphosate’s devastating impact on biodiversity should have already led to its ban. Thankfully, the significant public mobilisation and political opposition to re-approving glyphosate has been taken seriously by key EU governments, who have forced the EU commission to back down.”

On May 26, 2016, a St. Louis jury ordered Monsanto to pay $46.5million in damages for negligence in the production of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. This case, which went on trial April 28 2016, involved just three of nearly 100 plaintiffs “claiming that exposure to PCBs caused cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Sadly, while a number of plaintiffs have died as a result of the cancers they developed from Monsanto’s toxic PCBs, their claims were made by surviving relatives. The suit claims that Monsanto knew about the dangers of PCBs decades ago, but gave false testimony and scientific information to the public saying it was safe”[6]

Further damaging evidences pile up against indicted Monsanto: A trial in Redlands, California in May 2016 on the dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup reveals that “it is not only glyphosate that is dangerous, but also chemicals listed as inert ingredients.” A high court in Paris has 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.[7] The information showed that it could promote neuro-developmental disabilities including autism, attention-deficit, disorder, dyslexia and other cognitive impairments affecting millions of children worldwide and seem to be increasing in frequency.

Essentially, therefore, GMO maize and cotton into Nigeria must be rejected because they would not only create health challenges, sterilize agric-potentials of the nation but scuttle the change agenda of the current government just as they would lead to neo-colonization of Nigeria and Africa. The time to stop it is now.

It is a mark of utter recklessness that NBMA would rush to issue approvals for GMOs to be released in Nigeria less than a year of the NBMA Act coming into force. We demand that the permits surreptitiously issued to Monsanto on a platter of gold without regard to the concerns of millions of Nigerians should be revoked immediately. We also urge that the recently enacted National Biosafety Agency Management Act should be quickly repealed to prevent NBMA from running amok with GMOs and flooding our country with these risky organisms.

Signed

  1. Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF

nnimmo@homef.org

Tel: +234 803 727 4395

  1. Mariann Orovwuje,

Food Sovereignty Manager/Coordinator ERA/FoEN and FoE International

mariann@eraction.org

+234 703 449 5940

  1. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour

Prv@spatialtectonics.com

+234 703 428 9598

—————–

Notes

[1]See the permit at http://www.nbma.gov.ng/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Decision_Document_on_Bt.Cotton_for_Monsanto_signed.pdf

[2] See the permit at  http://www.nbma.gov.ng/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Decision__Document_GM_Maize_for_Bt_and_Ht_CFT_-Signed.pdf

[3] See the objections at http://www.homef.org/publication/objection-release-gmo-cotton-monsanto and at http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/objection-to-monsanto-application-field-trials.pdf

[4] The WHO IARC report was composed of many peer-reviewed studies; it was free from conflict of interests and most importantly, in contrast, those done by Monsanto and submitted to EFSA for regulatory approval are unpublished, the scientist involved are unnamed.

[5] http://www.sanbi.org/node/1958/reference

[6] http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/blog/2016/may/26

[7] http://www.rapaluruguay.org/transgenicos/Maiz/Genetically_Maize.pdf

For Our Biosafety & Biosecurity*

IMG_0764The saying goes that a people united can never be defeated. Today we affirm that our unity is built on sound knowledge and on a commitment to ensure that our agricultural and food systems are not by any means compromised or corrupted by GMOs.

The conference on Just Governance: The Nigerian Biosafety Law, GMOs and Implications for Nigerians and Africa could not have come at a more critical time. We are at crossroads in the struggle for sustainable agriculture, safe foods, biosafety and biosecurity. Navigating this intersection and assuring Nigerians that their concerns are not pushed out of view by profit-driven biotech transnational corporations and their agents can only be achieved through a broad movement of vigilant Nigerians, and Africans at large.

The coming together of faith based organisations, farmers, consumers, academics, youths and non-governmental organisations to examine the critical issues under the co-coordination of the Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN), Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Africa Europe Faith & Justice Network (AEFJN) and the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) indicates that the movement to pursue the best interest of Nigerians and Africans is on track.

The saying goes that a people united can never be defeated. Today we affirm that our unity is built on sound knowledge and on a commitment to ensure that our agricultural and food systems are not by any means compromised or corrupted by GMOs.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with its Precautionary Principle, sets the minimum international biosafety standards for the trans-boundary movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and requires that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific knowledge shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective means to prevent environmental degradation. This key principle is lacking in Nigeria’s Biosafety law. With such a lacuna and many others – including lack of provisions for strict liability, labelling of GMO products, open and full public consultations – there is no guarantee for our biosafety and ultimately biosecurity.

The desperate push by the biotech industry to invade our agriculture and foods has come on the heels of coming into effect of the severely defective National Biosafety Management Act. That law was one of the last actions of the immediate past presidency. It is an act that threatens to enthrone a biosafety regime that caters for the interest of biotech industries seeking markets for their genetically modified crops and related chemicals.

  • We demand that current applications by Monsanto to bring in genetically modified varieties of maize and cotton into Nigeria should be set aside until we have a system that can protect the interest of Nigerians and is in line with the African Model Law on biosafety as well as the requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • Although the law is recently enacted, we cannot avoid quickly repealing it or, at a minimum, drastically revising it to ensure that risky or harmful substances do not have a free reign in our land.

Our agricultural systems, including that of saving and sharing seeds, should never be tampered with. Our biodiversity is our strength and this critical inbuilt resilience will be lost if we allow GMOs to erode or erase our heritage and destroy our soils and water with harmful chemicals.

We call on relevant government ministries to jealously guard our crop and animal varieties, provide rural infrastructure, support agro-allied industries for food processing and preservation and expand extension services that were severely constricted by the requirements of the infamous structural adjustment programmes.

Nigeria is not a dumping ground for risky technologies and we are not about to yield to be used as guinea pigs for experimentation by profit driven entities and their local agents. We stand for support of small holder farmers, food sovereignty encompassing our right to safe and culturally appropriate food. We stand for agricultural systems that do not harm the climate.

-ends-

*Statement by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the press conference marking close of the Just Governance: The Nigerian Biosafety law, GMOs, and Implications for Nigerians and Africa held at Reiz Continental Hotel, Abuja from May 23-25, 2016.

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IMG_0785Abuja Declaration on The Release Of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria*

At the conclusion of the conference on Just Governance: The Nigerian Bio-Safety Law, GMOs, and Implications for Nigeria and Africa held at Reiz Continental Hotel, Abuja, May 23-25, 2016; we, the participants from diverse religious and faith based bodies, communities and civil society organizations (CSOs) from Nigeria, Africa and other parts of the world, affirm that organic foods  are healthy, nutritious and remain a vital aspect of human rights to food and food security.

Informed by the robust, structured and eye-opening presentations by specialists and panelists and spontaneous  contributions by the participants, we strongly object to the release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria, convinced that GMOs are not the solution to hunger.

Nigeria’s fertile land guarantees the nation food sovereignty. Consequently, hunger  is due to bad governance, poor infrastructure for preservation and distribution of food and lack of adequate all round support to small holder farmers who constitute over 70% of the farmers in Nigeria. We, therefore, stornly recommend to  the Nigerian  Government to invest more in agriculture.

The Nigerian Bio-Safety Law, in its present form, is a recipe for the  destruction of Nigeria’s ecosystem, food cultures and systems. The process leading to its passage was devoid of critical input and public participation that would have enabled Nigerians to significantly determine and protect their food cultures and systems. It  lacks legal safeguards for protecting their rights.

We observe that the public hearing at the National Assembly did not meet an acceptable, minimum, global standard and  best practices in a democratic society. The hearing was just a  formality to create the semblance of a democratic process and skewed in favour of the GMOs Trans-National Corporations. The Government should not only introduce appropriate mechanisms but repeal the laws seeking to legalise and  adopt GMO seedlings and food products and consequently marginalize Nigerian farmers.

Furthermore, the Nigerian Bio-Safety Law is not in  the interest of Nigerian farmers and the wider public because it facilitates the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on a massive scale that  violates the precautionary principle, which forms the basis of the African Union’s revised African Model Law on Biodiversity, to which Nigeria is a signatory.

We adopt the comments of Health of Mother Earth Foundation and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria on the relevant sections of the Bio-Safety Law and strongly suggest their incorporation into the Nigerian Law to safeguard the rights of Nigerian citizens and protect Nigeria’s ecosystem.

The potential socio-economic, cultural and ethical impacts of GMOs are enormous and  diminish the positive impacts of small holder farmers who are feeding the country; promoting  cultural practices, community well-being, traditional crops and varieties; reducing rural unemployment; engendering trade; raising the quality of life of indigenous peoples; and re-affirming food security.

Aware that the UN recognizes socio-economic consideration as a key element in biosafety negotiations and decision-making processes (Protocol  on  Socio-Economic Considerations; Article 26), we, therefore, appeal to the Federal Government to conduct a socio-economic impact assessment of GMOs before the Government takes measures that destroy Nigeria’s agricultural sector.

The concern about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is not only about safety  for consumers, we are equally concerned about the more damaging  systematic appropriation of the rights to seeds by the Trans-National Corporations that deprives farmers of their traditional rights to seeds, in favor of patents by multinational corporations (SouthSouth Dialogue Conference).

There has been intensive and sustained propaganda on the positive contributions of GMO on food security questions, very little has been done to draw attention to the inherent risks and hazards of industrial mono-cropping and consumption of GMOs  such as loss of biodiversity, destruction of livestock, land grabbing,  land and environmental degradation, communal conflicts over land and loss of rights. Therefore, there is an urgent  need to present the true and full picture to Nigerians.

Industrial agriculture has no real contribution to national food sovereignty of Nigeria. It is part of the western development and capitalist economic regime bent on making Africa remain a cheap resource continent and market for finished products.  More fundamentally, the GMO project is anti-creational. It disturbs, contradicts and destroys the ecosystem. God created every plant and vegetable with its seed in it.

We implore our policy makers to learn from the experience of Burkina Faso and a host of other countries that are rejecting the GMOs and their false gospel of agricultural development. We maintain that  Nigeria’s food sovereignty lies in investing aggresively in agricuture, empowering small holder farmers, and practicing agri-ecology that is sustainable and environment-friendly.

 

Signed:

Rev  Aniedi Okure, OP   –Executive Director AFJN                    

Nnimmo Bassey — Executive Director HOMEF

Fr. Evaristus Bassey — Exective Director Caritas Nigeria and Church and Society Department

Fr.  Chika  Onyejiuwa, CSSp — Executive Secretary AEFJN, Brussels

 

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Communications:

Fr. Evaristus Bassey  Exective Director Caritas Nigeria and Church and Society Department

CBCN www.cbcn.org; www.caritasnigeria.orgfrevaristus@ccfng.org

Aniedi Okure OP,   AFJN http://www.afjn.org/  director@afjn.org, +1-202-817- 3670;

Nnimmo Bassey, HOMEF – www.homef.org  Nnimmo Bassey —  nnimmo@homef.org  ,

Mariann Bassey- Friends of Earth Campaigner  Orovwuje anybassi@yahoo.com  +234-703-449-5940.

Fr. Vincent Ajayi, voajayi@gmail.com  +234-803-308-6456;

Chika Onyejiuwa, C.S.Sp, AEFJN www.aefjn.org/execsecretary@aefjn.org ; +32466182622

 

*Resolutions of the Conference

 

Nigerian Biosafety Law: A Keg of Gun Powder

Nigerian Biosafety Law:  A Keg of Gun Powder

As you will hear in this conference, the Nigerian Biosafety Management Act (2015) is a highly defective piece of legislation contrived to open up Nigeria for a literal GMO invasion. HOMEF has examined the law and our publication on its yawning short comings is available online and in hard copies. We demand that the law be drastically and transparently reviewed to safeguard our environment, health, food systems and future generations. We also demand that the applications by Monsanto to introduce genetically modified maize and cotton into Nigeria be set aside as Nigeria must not be a dumping ground for failed or risky technologies.

It is an honour to welcome you all to this conference jointly hosted by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), the Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN), Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and Africa Europe Faith & Justice Network (AEFJN).

The ink with which the Nigerian Biosafety Management Act of 2015 was signed into law had hardly dried when the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) quickly received applications for genetically modified maize and cotton from Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited and advertised same for public comments. The rush was such that the advertisement of the applications published in Leadership (Thursday, February 25,2016) had two display duration dates with one saying 29th February to 28th March 2016 and another paragraph stating 22nd February to 15 March 2016. Two conflicting dates in the same advert does raise cause for concern.  Also puzzling is the fact that the advertisement was published in February 25, 2016 but the deadline mentioned in the notice took effect from February 22nd.  We submitted objections to the two applications and copies of the objections are available for participants in this conference.

We were not surprised by the move of NABMA because even before the law was signed in the dying days of the previous administration, the National Agricultural Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) had at a press conference on 17th July 2014 stated that they were working to fast track the adoption of genetically modified organisms in Nigeria. At that time, the agency claimed there were sufficient safeguards to protect Nigerians from the unpredictable consequences of introducing GMOs into our environment. Their acclaimed safeguards included the “a draft Biosafety Bill, biosafety application guidelines, biosafety containment facilities guidelines, and a variety of forms such as those for accreditation, GMO import and shipment form and a host of drafts.”[1]

The average Nigerians tend to think that any fruit that is bigger than normal is genetically modified. They also think that genetically modified crops grow rapidly, have high yields and are more nutritious than their normal counterparts. People routinely ask how the growing population would be fed without modern biotechnology.

All these are myths that the industry has quite successfully propagated. People believe these false claims without demanding for evidence beyond the scientific sounding terminologies: genetically, engineered, etc. Very few Nigerians know that genetic engineering is actually a cut and paste technology where genetic materials when inserted often arrives at unintended locations. Moreover, up to 70% of the world’s population is fed by small scale farmers and not from the products of genetic engineering. Indeed, a bulk of genetically engineered crops produced over the past two decades are used mostly as animal feed.

Some of us are concerned that agricultural modern biotechnology or genetic engineering is already being surreptitiously introduced into Nigeria. In 2006/2007 Friends of the Earth Africa groups detected illegal genetically modified rice on Nigeria’s market shelves. The findings were reported to the Federal Ministry of Environment and NAFDAC with no response from either. Finding an illegal GMO rice on Nigeria’s market shelf through a very random search suggests to us that we may be sitting on a keg of gun powder.

Africa is a frontier yet to be conquered by the biotech industry. Attempts to introduce the engineered crops to small scale farmers have met spectacular failures- especially with regard to cotton engineered to be pest resistant – as have been exemplified in South Africa and Burkina Faso. Other than cotton, the attempts have been on staple crops that our peoples depend on, including cassava, beans (cowpea)and bananas. The significance of such attempts is that our staples are captured by the biotech industry, then our agriculture and food will inexorably fall into their control.

Genetic engineering is still a “young” science, even though there already are more extreme versions of biotechnology , notably, synthetic biology. As you will learn from this conference, the drawbacks of agricultural genetic engineering are numerous and work against the grain of African agricultural systems. For one, they are mostly grown as monocultures, depend on agro toxics or agro-chemicals and on artificial fertilizer.

Concerns include negative impact on agro-ecosystems, such as development of resistance in target insect pests, harmful effects on non-target insects, development of herbicide tolerance in weeds, and genetic erosion or loss of traditional crop diversity as a result of genetic contamination through cross-fertilization.[3] . As the research by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the USA showed, yield gains have been due to improved traditional breeding methods and other agricultural practices other than those of genetic engineering. [4] Moreover, it does not make sense comparing the product of mono-culture with the product of multi-culture.

Hunger is caused by poverty and not by a lack of food. A majority of those who go to bed hungry are actually farmers. They suffer hunger because they have to sell off their produce in order to meet financial obligations related to family needs. In addition, farmers in rural communities with poor infrastructure are simply unable to get their harvests to markets where they could obtain reasonable prices. This dearth of infrastructure and social support opens our farmers to multiple layers of exploitation and deprivation.

We are concerned that rather than focusing on supporting local farmers who are known to hold the key for supply of wholesome food now and in the future, our agencies appear to have thrown caution to the winds, ignore the Precautionary Principle – the very bedrock of biosafety- and are embracing risky technologies and systems that would eventually lead to a colonisation of our agriculture.

As you will hear in this conference, the Nigerian Biosafety Management Act (2015) is a highly defective piece of legislation contrived to open up Nigeria for a literal GMO invasion. HOMEF has examined the law and our publication on its yawning short comings is available online and in hard copies. We demand that the law be drastically and transparently reviewed to safeguard our environment, health, food systems and future generations. We also demand that the applications by Monsanto to introduce genetically modified maize and cotton into Nigeria be set aside as Nigeria must not be a dumping ground for failed or risky technologies.

Let me conclude these welcome words by sharing an extract of what HOMEF stands for:

HOMEF is an environmental/ecological think tank and advocacy organisation. It is rooted in solidarity and in the building and protection of human and collective dignity. We believe that neoliberal agendas driven by globalization of exploitation of the weak, despoliation of ecosystems and lack of respect for Mother Earth thrive mostly because of the ascendancy of enforced creed of might is right. This ethic permits the powerful to pollute, grab resources and degrade/destroy the rest simply because they can do so. HOMEF recognizes that this reign of (t)error can best be tackled through a conscious examination of the circumstances by which the trend crept in and got entrenched. Thus, HOMEF will have as a cardinal work track continuous political education aimed at examining the roots of exploitation of resources, labour, peoples and entire regions. HOMEF hopes through this to contribute to the building of movements for recovery of memory, dignity and harmonious living with full respect of natural cycles of Mother Earth.[5]

Welcome to fruitful deliberations.

-ends-

(Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director Health of Mother Earth Foundation, at the Conference on The Nigerian Biosafety Act and GMOs – Implications for Nigerians and Africa held in Abuja 24-25th May 2016)

NOTES

[1] See Joke Falaju. July 18, 2014. Nigeria to accelerate adoption of GM crops. The guardian, reposted on https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/07/18/nigeria-to-accelerate-adoption-of-gm-crops/ and accessed on 23 May 2016. See also, HOMEF.2014. Not on our PlatesWhy Nigeria does not need GM food – http://www.homef.org//sites/default/files/pubs/not-on-our-plates.pdf

[2]BBC. EU allows sale of more GM food crops for livestock. 24 April 2015 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32450268

[3] Friends of the Earth International.2003. Playing with Hunger – The reality behind the shipment of GMOs as Food Aid. Amsterdam. Pp9-10

[4] Union of Concerned Scientists.2009. Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/failure-to-yield.html#.V0LSFGM-iFI Accessed 23.05.2016

See also http://thefreethoughtproject.com/buy-myth-gmo-crops-increase-yields/ and http://www.gmwatch.org/news/archive/2013/15065-union-of-concerned-scientists-respond-again-to-pam-ronald-s-attacks

[5] See more at: http://www.homef.org/content/about-home#sthash.6dHW5m8U.dpuf

Eco-Instigator 11 by HOMEF- a collector’s delight

Cover of Eco-Instigator 11HOME RUN

The turmoil in the world has continued with increasing sites of environmental and political conflagrations. As this edition of your Eco-Instigator was going to bed, the world was shocked to hear of the assassination in Honduras of Berta Caceres, the outstanding, inspiring, courageous human rights and environmental campaigner, Founder of the Civic Council and Indigenous Peoples of Honduras Association (COPINH). Her murder was compounded by the shooting, and detention of Gustavo Castro, a comrade and leader of Otros Mundos, (Friends of the Earth Mexico). HOMEF joined all people of good conscience to condemn these atrocious actions, demand for justice and, of course, call for a halt to these and similar acts around the world.

Two unfolding scenarios in Nigeria are of great concern to us and we have beamed our spotlight on them in this edition. First is the resolve of biosafety regulators in Nigeria to promote the entry modern agricultural biotechnology into the country. When officials saddled with regulating a sector act as promoters of the very thing they should regulate you can imagine what the tendencies would be. Soon after a deeply flawed National Biosafety Management Bill was hurriedly signed into law by the immediate past president of Nigeria, Monsanto Nigeria Agricultural Ltd rushed two applications for field testing of genetically modified maize and the commercial release of genetically modified cotton in Nigeria. Public notices on these applications were published on 25 February and HOMEF in concert with 99 national organisations sent objections to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA). A short advisory on our objections is published in this issue. We also publish an open letter sent by a collective to Nigeria’s president on why genetically modified organisms should not be permitted in Nigeria.

A 20 kilometres right of way for an about 100 metres highway must hold the record for government land grabbing for the “overriding public interest’ to satisfy deep private interests.

The second obnoxious drama unfolding on our shores is Superhighway Project that is proposed to lead from a proposed deep sea port on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and cut through pristine community forests to the Nigerian hinterland. Forest communities in the Cross River axis of Nigeria where this so-called Superhighway is to be built have managed their community forests so well that a community like Ekuri has been awarded the Equator Prize for community forest management. The government of Cross River State has commenced the bulldozing of forests and farms in defiance of the fact that the project is yet to receive an approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the people have not given free prior informed consent as required by ILO article 169.

One of the highlights of this 264km long Superhighway is that the Cross River State government has claimed land stretching 10 km on either side of the road. A 20 kilometres right of way for an about 100 metres highway must hold the record for government land grabbing for the “overriding public interest’ to satisfy deep private interests.

We serve you a menu of poetry, reports and, of course, books you must read. As usual, we like to hear back form you.

Read the full publication here… eco instigator 11

Until victory!

Nnimmo

Nigerians Overwhelmingly Reject Monsanto’s Risky Gm Maize and Cotton

Biosafety Act reviewMore than 100 groups representing over 5 million Nigerians, comprising of farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local community groups, are vehemently opposing Monsanto’s attempts to introduce genetically modified (GM) cotton and maize into Nigeria’s food and farming systems. In written objections submitted to the biosafety regulators, the groups have cited numerous serious health and environmental concerns and the failure of these crops especially GM cotton in Africa.

Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited has applied to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) for the environmental release and placing in the market in Zaria and surrounding towns of GM cotton (Bt cotton, event MON 15985). A further application is for the confined field trial (CFT) of two GM maize varieties (NK603 and stacked event MON 89034 x NK603) in multiple locations in Nigeria.

In their objection to the commercial release of Bt cotton into Nigeria, the groups are particularly alarmed that the application has come so close after the dismal failures of Bt cotton in Burkina Faso.  According to Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth – one of the groups in the frontline of the resistance: “We are totally shocked that it should come so soon after peer reviewed studies have showed that the technology has failed dismally in Burkina Faso. It has brought nothing but economic misery to the cotton sector there and is being phased out in that country where compensation is being sought from Monsanto.” He further asks the pointed question: “since our Biosafety Act has only recently entered into force, what biosafety legislation was used to authorise and regulate the field trials in the past in accordance with international law and best biosafety practice?”

According to the groups, former President Goodluck Jonathan hastily signed the National Biosafety Management Bill into law, in the twilight days of his tenure in office. Further worrying is the apparent conflict of interests displayed by the Nigerian regulatory agencies, who are publically supporting the introduction of GMOs into Nigeria whereas these regulators (the NAMBA) are legally bound to remain impartial and regulate in the public interest.

Apart from the potential of contaminating local varieties, the health risk of the introduction of genetically modified maize into Nigeria is enormous considering the fact that maize is a staple that all of 170 million Nigerians depend on.

Monsanto’s GM maize application is in respect of a stacked event, including the herbicide tolerant trait intended to confer tolerance to the use of the herbicide, glyphosate. In 20 March 2015 – The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), assessed the carcinogenicity of glysophate and concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” There is also increasing scientific evidence that glyphosate poses serious risks to the environment.

According to Mariann Orovwuje, Friends of the Earth International’s Food Sovereignty co-coordinator, “Should commercialization of Monsanto’s GM maize be allowed pursuant to field trials, this will result in increased use of glyphosate in Nigeria, a chemical that is linked to causing cancer in humans. Recent studies have linked glyphosate to health effects such as degeneration of the liver and kidney, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That NABMA is even considering this application is indeed unfortunate and deeply regrettable, knowing full well about the uncontrolled exposure that our rural farmers and communities living close to farms will be exposed to.”

Monsanto’s application deceitfully provides no discussion on the potential risks of glysophate use to human and animal health and the environment. Apart from the potential of contaminating local varieties, the health risk of the introduction of genetically modified maize into Nigeria is enormous considering the fact that maize is a staple that all of 170 million Nigerians depend on.

The groups are urging the Nigerian government to reject Monsanto’s applications out of hand. They note with disquiet that there is a serious lack of capacity within Nigeria to adequately control and monitor the human and environmental risks of GM crops and glyphosate. Further there is virtually no testing of any food material and products in Nigeria for glyphosate or other pesticide residues, or the monitoring of their impact on the environment including water resources.

For more information, contact:

  1. Mariann Orovwuje,

Food Sovereignty Manager/coordinator ERA/FoEN and FoE International

mariann@eraction.org

+234 703 449 5940

 

  1. Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF

nnimmo@homef.org

Tel: +234 803 727 4395

 

 

Groups Endorsing the Objection to Monsanto’s applications

  1. All Nigeria Consumers Movement Union (ANCOMU)
  2. Committee on Vital Environmental Resources (COVER)
  3. Community Research and Development Centre (CRDC)
  4. Ijaw Mothers of Warri
  5. Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN)
  6. Host Communities Network of Nigeria (HoCoN)
  7. Oilwatch Nigeria
  8. Green Alliance, Nigeria
  9. African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development
  10. Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL)
  11. Women Environmental Programme (WEP)
  12. Persons with Disabilities Action Network (PEDANET)
  13. Students Environmental Assembly of Nigeria (SEAN)
  14. Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)
  15. Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF)
  16. KebetKache Women Development and Resource Centre
  17. Federation of Urban Poor (FEDUP)
  18. Community Forest Watch (CFW)
  19. The Young Environmentalist Network (TYEN)
  20. Women’s Rights to Education Program (WREP)
  21. Community Action for Public Action (CAPA)
  22. Peoples Advancement Centre (ADC) Bori
  23. Social Action
  24. SPEAK Nigeria
  25. Host Communities Network
  26. Urban Rural Environmental Defenders (U-RED)
  27. Gender and Environmental Risk Reduction Initiative (GERI)
  28. Women’s Right to Education Programme (WREP)
  29. Foundation for Rural/Urban Integration (FRUIT)
  30. Community Action for Popular Participation
  31. Torjir-Agber Foundation (TAF)
  32. Civil Society on Poverty Eradication (CISCOPE),
  33. Jireh Doo foundation
  34. Advocate for Community Vision and Development( ACOVID)
  35. Initiative for empowerment for vulnerable(IEV)
  36. Kwaswdoo Foundation Initiative (KFI)
  37. Environment and Climate Change Amelioration Initiative) ECCAI
  38. Manna Love and care Foundation (MLC)
  39. Okaha Women and children development Organisation(OWCDO)
  40. JODEF-F
  41. Glorious things ministry(GTM)
  42. Daughters of Love Foundation
  43. Medical Women Association of Nigeria (MWAN)
  44. Community Links and Empowerment Initiative(CLHEI)
  45. Nigerian Women in Agriculture (NAWIA)
  46. Osa foundation
  47. Initiative for Improved Health and Wealth Creation (IIHWC)
  48. Peace Health Care Initiative (PHCI)
  49. Ochilla Daughters Foundation (ODF)
  50. African Health Project (AHP)
  51. Artists in Development
  52. Ramberg Child Survival Initiative (RACSI)
  53. Global Health and Development initiative
  54. First Step Initiative (FIP)
  55. Ruhujukan Environment Development  Initiative (REDI)
  56. The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development(CEHRD), Nigeria
  57. Center for Children’s Health Education, Orientation Protection (CEE Hope)and CEEHOPE Nigeria
  58. Next Generation Youth Initiative (NGI)
  59. Akwa Ibom Information and Research Organisation (AIORG)
  60. Rural Action for Green Environment (RAGE)
  61. United Action for Democracy
  62. Campaign for Democracy
  63. Yasuni Association
  64. Egi Joint Action Congress
  65. Green Concern for Development (Greencode)
  66. Kebetkache Ahoada Women Farmers Cooperative
  67. Ahoada Uzutam Women Farmers Cooperative
  68. Ogboaku Ahoada Farmers Cooperative
  69. Gbobia Feefeelo women
  70. Ovelle Nyakovia Women Cooperative
  71. Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors
  72. League of Queens
  73. Emem Iban Oku Iboku
  74. Uchio Mpani Ibeno
  75. Rural Health and Women Development
  76. Women Initiative on Climate Change
  77. Peoples’ Centre
  78. Citizens Trust Advocacy and Development Centre (CITADEC)
  79. Centre for Environment Media and Development Communications
  80. Centre for Dignity
  81. Peace and Development Project
  82. Triumphant Foundation
  83. Earthcare Foundation
  84. Lokiakia Centre
  85. Community Development and Advocacy Foundation (CODAF)
  86. Citizens Centre
  87. Development Strategies
  88. Rainforest Research and Development Center
  89. Center for Environmental Education and Development (CEED)
  90. Initiative for the Elimination of Violence Against Women & Children (IEVAWC)
  91. Charles and Doosurgh Abaagu Foundation
  92. Community Emergency Response Initiative
  93. Society for Water and Sanitation (NEWSAN)
  94. Shacks and Slum Dwellers Association of Nigeria
  95. Atan Justice, Development and Peace Centre
  96. Sisters of Saint Louis Nigeria
  97. Life Lift Nigeria
  98. Community Research and Development Foundation (CDLF)
  99. Environmental rights Action Friends of the Earth Nigeria ( ERA/ FoEN)
  100. Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

 

 

Sharing Gives Meaning to Creation

Knowledge generation is one thing, sharing it is another. It does not matter how much knowledge is generated and how brilliant they may be, if no one shares such knowledge it may not make any difference if they were never generated.

Health of Mother Earth’s quarterly journal is a great space for knowledge creation and sharing. The coverage is not only broad, the depth is often profound. Take issue number 09 of September 2015, for example.  It lines up two provocative articles on the Conference of Parties (COP21) on climate change by Mary Louise Malig of the Global Forest Coalition and John Foran. It also brings the remarkable story of the little known of struggle against fracking in In Salah, Algeria written by Holcin Maiti. Then there is the interview with Firoze Manji that tackles the concept of degrowth from a Southern perspective.

The coverage is not only broad, the depth is often profound.CVO8GIcW4AEc6XT

Photo: Natalia Greene and Shannon Biggs see something of interest in Eco-Instigator 09

The cover focus, Martyrs of Extractivism parades key reports of Ken Saro-Wiwa as well as the hearth rending article by Esther Kioble on her husband, Barinem Kiobel who was murdered alongside Ken Saro-Wiwa and other seven Ogoni leaders on 10 November 1995.

From the global to the local, everything is interconnected. This came to the fore with the reports and articles on Vandana Shiva’s campaign visit to Nigeria in July 2015. During the tour Shiva spoke on the theme Soil, Not Oil at the second Right Livelihood Lecture at the University of port Harcourt as well as at community gatherings in Ogoni and Egiland in the Niger Delta.

Grab a copy of Eco-instigator at http://www.home.org and let us know if you agree that knowledge is of little value if it is not shared.