News Column

Food Safety - Environmentalist Raises Doubts On Nigeria's Draft Biosafety Law

August 3, 2014

Onche Odeh

Proponents of Genetic Modification (GM) of food, which thrives on biotechnology, have said that it has the cure for Africa's agricultural and food problems, although they also say such benefits could only blossom with a biosafety laws instituted in countries where they are adopted.

Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, however, would not buy this argument, as he has categorically stated that there are other verifiable and safe solutions other than modern biotechnology.

Bassey who spoke in Lagos on Thursday, also expressed fears that the draft copy of Nigeria's biosafety law is too weak to protect Nigerians from any major disasters that may arise should any GM experimentation or application go awry.

According to him, the promoters of modern agricultural biotechnology are driven by profit motive and not benevolence, saying Africa has become the last frontier for the biotech businesses with Nigeria being the biggest single untapped market on the continent.

Speaking more on the biosafety law, which is yet to be passed, Bassey said, "The road towards making a Nigerian Biosafety Law has been one bedevilled by hide-and-seek tactics."

He said it has not been a transparent process.

"The notice of the Public Hearing of 2009 was so short that one could not expect critical participants like farmers and community groups to adequately prepare and submit their memoranda.

"At the public hearing itself farmers, civil society and community groups were given about a minute apiece to present their views while pro-biotech agencies had all the time to lecture the gathering on the benefits of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"It is worrisome that leaders who should protect our environment, agriculture and general patrimony are at the forefront of promoting and plotting to ambush Nigerians into accepting a technology that portends more harm than good," Bassey said.

He said a technology that thrives on lax and often illogical laws cannot be trusted, in which case, he has called on the National Assembly and the Nigerian President not to yield to pressure to accent to the biosafety law.

Bassey said, "The bill that policy makers present as key to opening our environment for invasion by GMOs does not have the teeth to protect our biodiversity and environmental health.

"The bill has no provisions for strict liability and does not have a mechanism for redress once contamination has occurred.

"The fact that some genetically engineered products have entered our market shelves illegally should elicit a different response than to open up the market to be flooded with more of such products."

He pointed out that the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GM foods is enough reason to be cautious, adding, "We will not stand by idly and see Nigerians turned into guinea pigs without their consent.

"Our nation is wracked by violence of various varieties including those that come through bombs and environmental degradation. We certainly do not wish to open another battlefield through our stomachs."

The HOMEF Director is also worried that most genetically engineered crops are either modified to resist herbicides produced by the seed companies or to kill target pests, with the crops becoming pesticides themselves.

Faulting what he called the myths behind GM, Bassey said, "The myths by which crops with these traits have been promoted are that they will require less herbicides and pesticides.

"This has not happened as nature has responded with superweeds and what may be termed superbugs."

We have already noted that these crops do not necessarily yield as much as normal crops and neither do the yield more than those bred conventionally.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: AllAfrica

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