July 13, 2024

Food Safety Groups applaud Senate’s move to tighten regulation of GMOs

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Nathan Tamarapreye, Yenagoa

A coalition of Food Safety Advocacy Groups on Tuesday hailed the Senate for its moves to strengthen regulation of Genetically-Modified Organisms in Nigeria’s food chain.

The commendation was contained in a statement issued by Ms Kome Odhomor, Media/Communication Lead, Health of Mother Earth Foundation.

The commendation is the sequel to Senate’s decision on April 5 to strengthen GMOs regulation in the country.

The groups include GMO-Free Nigeria, Health of Mother Earth; Foundation (HOMEF), Corporate Accountability and Public Participation; Africa (CAPPA), Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) amongst others.

The coalition expressed delight that the Senate was considering a bill to review the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act in the overall interest of protecting food safety and public interests in Nigeria.

It will be recalled that Sen Yahaya Abdullahi is the Bill for the Amendment of the National Biosafety Management Act (NBMA).

He said the Act needs review for more diligent legislation that would make the country to be zero tolerant of any hazardous product related to GMOs.

In his reaction, Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF stated that: “This is a huge milestone towards defending the rights of Nigerian citizens to safe food and environment.

“It is a step in the right direction for consumers and especially for smallholder farmers who are directly impacted by GMOs and associated chemicals.

“And yet, these peasant farmers have little or no knowledge or choice about the entry of these unnatural varieties into our food system or of their potential risks.

“We reject being fed with foods of dubious quality!

“We have always called on the Government to interrogate the questionable authorization of crops that would have irreversible impacts on our biodiversity, health, environment, and food safety.

“We applaud this intervention by the Senate in seeking to enforce law and order with proper regulation of Biosafety in Nigeria,” Bassey stated.

Nnimmo Bassey added that promoting food safety and security/sovereignty is a mandate that rests not just on the Biosafety Management Agency but also on the entire public.

He explained that public opinion must be duly considered in decision-making processes concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

He added that it should never be forgotten that Nigeria shares extensive land borders with other nations and GMOs allowed into Nigeria are invariably being introduced to these neighbouring nations without their knowledge or consent.

The statement also quoted the Director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, as congratulating the Senate for this bold step.

“We strongly believe that scientific integrity and social responsibility and accountability are not negotiable, and no technology should be exempted from these values.

He went on to say that those saddled with the duty of protecting our food must look away from the industrial yield-output paradigm and adopt a more integrated, systems approach to food and agriculture that takes into consideration many factors, including local food security and sovereignty.

He further said “there is a need for very effective independent, credible, regulatory authority to ensure rigorous oversight of GE crops, without the least hint of any conflict of interest.

Priority should be given to rural communities, livelihoods, and the interests of resource-poor and marginal small-scale farmers rather than serving corporate interests and their profits.

GMOs will bring about seed colonization, distorting of our food culture and fostering dependency on local and international corporations. Instead of ensuring the well-being of the people, it only stands to benefit the corporations and their Nigerian cohorts.”

The Group lauded the decision by the Senate, presided over by Senate President Ahmad Lawan, supported by the majority of the Senators in the passing of the Second Reading of the Bill for an Amendment of the NBMA 2015 and other Related Matters of 2022, for a more diligent and integrity test of GMOs.

According to reports, speakers on the Senate floor were of the opinion that our environment must be of priority and better soil ecosystem management through diligent regulation of GMO seed varieties and other products must be upheld.

They added that caution must be central in what we allow into our country through foreign partnerships in the interest of our environment and Nigerians’ health.

Barrister Chima Williams, The Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) said this is a welcome development and the position of the Senate resonates with what they have been telling Nigerians and the Government for over a decade.

“GMOs are regulated because their safety is not guaranteed. There are good reasons why in Europe robust regulatory mechanisms are in place for GM food and GM crops.

“GMOS are not the same as natural varieties and they are also not substantially equivalent.

“If they were indeed one and the same thing, as the GMOs proponents claim, why are they modifying them and why have patents on them?

“The claim of substantial equivalence as touted by the promoters of the technology is an industry get-out tactic to avoid the rigour of proper assessment and regulation.”

According to Williams, GM technology has undeniably become associated with profit-seeking corporations and rolled out as a tool to further consolidate their dominant market positions and colonisation of our food systems and processes.

“We must consider too that many things that scientists are trying to achieve with GMOs have already been provided by nature and by our local farmers through conventional breeding.

“We should not accept the proposition that only GM Crops and GM food can solve problems in agriculture. Certainly, there is sufficient evidence to show that non-GMO options and innovations have out-performed the much-touted GM options.”

Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, the Coordinator for the Food Sovereignty Program for Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Africa and the Chair of the Agroecology and Land Working Group of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) said: ‘There are enough reasons to hold back on commercialising GM Crops in Nigeria.’

She urged that the Senate should subject all the GMO crops and food approved into our environment to independent, transparent, environmental, social and health impact evaluations.

She said as a matter of urgency they should be subjected to stringent regulatory scrutiny, and they would know that the groups concerns about them were justified.

The Groups strongly reject the non-circumspect modus-operandi of the National Biotechnology Development Agency, National Biosafety Management Agency and partners to foist GMO crops/foods upon undiscerning Nigerians via their introduction and marketing into our agricultural system and food supply chain.

The coalition said they have valid concerns about GMOs, and they have compelling and cogent reasons to support their views even though they are constantly being vilified by the promoters of GM technology.

According to the Group, instead of engaging in open and honest debate, they have seen some scientists and promoters of the failed GM technology hardening their positions, lashing out at critics, and forwarding personal opinions or parroting corporate opinions and agenda. The group retorted ‘We refused to be swayed by industry-inspired lobbying and spin and mere rhetoric designed to shut off debates.

The groups equally urged the Senate to convoke a Public Hearing on the Bill to allow other Nigerians to add their voices in support of the path the Senate has chosen by presenting their concerns, views and evidence before the Senate on why there should be stronger and more stringent conditions for admittance of any product that is unknown to the Nigerian households.

We need truly innovative and culturally relevant systems such as agroecology that protect and enhance ecosystems, support smallholder farmers while cooling the planet, increasing productivity, and promoting food sovereignty.

Nigerians should support the Senate in the move towards protecting our food varieties and ensuring that GMOs are not forced on our people without their knowledge of what they are planting or eating.

We shall not fold our arms and watch our food and agricultural systems colonised and destroyed by profit-seeking businesses working with public agencies serving unabashedly as middlemen.

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