GMO: We can’t be deceived again
By Alex Abutu
In the last ten years or there about, a group of activists have held the country to ransom instilling unnecessary fears in the minds of people as well as spreading unscientific facts about genetically modified organisms.
This group have been singing the same song of fear, not safe, dangerous, negative impact on environment, development of super weed, super insect, monopoly of Monsanto, farmers will become dependent on seed companies among others that have made it difficult for Nigerians to make up their minds on the technology.
These groups which now write letters and petitions to Mr President and who-so-ever they think is important hinged their campaigns on the fact the Europe detest genetically modification so why should Nigeria accept such alien invasion of our natural habitat that will contaminate the environment and endanger our lives.
Globally, anti GM groups have stalled the commercialization of GM crops based on misconceptions, ignorance and fear of the unknown. In the Philippines, they influenced a court ruling to stop golden rice trial and In Mexico, influenced an injunction halting all experimental and commercial planting of GM maize.
Despite these campaigns, South Africa commercialized GM Maize in 1997. Since then, it has had no reported negative impact on human health or on the environment.
While the USA has over two decades cultivated and consumed genetically modified foods and there is no single reported case of harm or side effect.
A common example to illustrate the fact that the fear over genetically modified foods is just hearsay and not scientific was presented by Dr Tor Edwards, Agriculture Development Officer, USAID/Nigeria in a talk recently on benefits, risks, and promise of biotechnology thus:
“Number of internet search result for GMO cancer in 0.45 seconds is 4,690,000 while the number of cancer caused by GMO in 20+ years is 0. Number of search result for GMO allergies in 0.38 seconds is 578,000 while the search for number of allergies caused by GMO in 20+ years is 0. Number of search results for GMO poison in 0,40 seconds is 535,000 while the search for number of cases of GMO poisoning in 20+ years is 0.”
Mark Lynas one of the world leading anti-GMO activist who repented and even visited Nigeria as part of his global apology to farmers said recently: “I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.
This matters enormously because these technologies – in particular the various uses of molecular biology to enhance plant breeding potential – are clearly some of our most important tools for addressing food security and future environmental change, Lynas added.
To buttress the Lynas point, here are some statistics for us to consider before addressing the issues of fear always raised by those against the technology.
92 per cent of corn consumed in United States of America is genetically modified, 94 per cent of soybeans is also GM, so is 94 per cent of cotton, 95 per cent of sugarbeets and 90 per cent of Canola oil.
European Union on its part imports 13 million tons of soybeans, 22 million tons of soymeal, 2.5 million tons of maize, 2 million tons of oilseed and 0.1 million tons of cotton that are GM.
United Kingdom has the world largest field trial study on GMOs in the world; Germany endorsed genetically modified maize since 2004 while Spain, Europe GM leader has been into genetic modification since 1998.
In 2010, the European Commission approved a regulation that allowed for countries at their national levels to decide whether to allow the cultivation or importation of genetically modified crops and foods. Anne Glover, former European Union scientific adviser noted that genetic engineering was safe and pose no risk to human.
The GM technology remained the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in recent years from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015.
The fear about GMO always emphasised by the antis can be explained by the Paradox of Risk Perception as outlined by Prof Calestous Juma, a renowned biotechnologist that in the US’ products are safe until proven risky, in ‘Europe’ products are risky until proven safe, in ‘India’ products are risky even when proven safe but in ‘Africa’ products are risky even if they do not exist.
Another issue frequently raised by those against the technology is that of allergenicity, that is the transfer of genes from commonly allergenic organisms to non-allergic organisms.
While foods developed using traditional breeding methods are not generally tested for allergenicity, protocols for the testing of GM foods have been evaluated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WHO. No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market meaning the fear is unfounded and unnecessary.
There is also the rumour that gene transfer from GM foods to cells of the body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the transferred genetic material adversely affects human health.
This would be particularly relevant if antibiotic resistance genes, used as markers when creating GMOs, were to be transferred. Although the probability of transfer is low, the use of gene transfer technology that does not involve antibiotic resistance genes is encouraged.
The fact of the matter is that Nigeria is not alone in the pursuit and deployment of this technology. Early this year the Kenya National Biosafety Authority granted approval for environmental release of BT Maize and Ghana recently issued guidelines for general release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Ghana’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) issued the guidelines, in lieu of implementing regulations. A letter signed by the authority’s chief executive, Mr. Eric Okore, stated that NBA issued the guidelines on handling requests for use of GMOs while waiting for the implementing regulations to Act 831 to be passed. It also confirmed that the authority was working towards getting the implementing regulations passed by the Parliament.
“The NBA is further putting in place measures to build the capacity needed to assess and make decisions on applications regarding general release of GMOs. We therefore wish to cease the opportunity to invite all partners to support the Authority to put in place this needed capacity,” Mr. Okore noted.
For those misleading the nation, it is important to remind them that when planes were introduced people said it was unnecessary and called it a killer bird but today it had made significant difference in our lives. The good thing about genetic modification is that it is firmly rooted in science and surrounded with enough global regulations to ensure safe practice.