FG’s Approval Of GM Beans In Nigeria Sparks Concerns Over Food Safety..

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HOMEF Says Nigerian Farmers “ambushed to plant and eat what they don’t know.”

The rollout of genetically modified (GM) cowpea, popularly known as beans in Nigeria and its approval for commercial cultivation by the Nigerian government was done without recourse to national food safety and food sovereignty of Nigerians, the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), an ecological think-tank has said.

The organisation accused the government of distributing GM Cowpea (beans) to farmers across Nigeria’s 36 states without proper risk assessments, information and education on GM technology.

At a press conference in Lagos, Thursday, HOMEF flayed the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) for not properly explaining PBR Cowpea to farmers before handing out its seeds to thousands of crop growers, said to know little about the issues surrounding its cultivation and public consumption.

Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey in his address warned against the adverse consequences of the proliferation of GM organisms in the country and its implications for food and nutritional security.

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The New Diplomat had reported that the Nigerian government had in December 2019 approved the genetically modified cowpea variety known as Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea (PBR cowpea) or SAMPEA-20T for commercial production.

On 30 June, 2021, Nigeria officially released the beans to farmers, saying the GM cowpea is resistant to an insect pest called Maruca vitrata, which is responsible for yield losses.

“It is estimated that 20 percent of the cowpea consumed in Nigeria is imported. With PBR cowpea, Nigeria is set to save billions in earnings.” Dr. Denis Kyetere, who was the Executive Director of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) at the time of the cowpea launch in Kano had argued.

Through the action, Nigeria became the first country in Africa to openly embrace any genetically modified food crops aside South Africa, despite certain concerns expressed over safety by groups and experts working on food safety and security.

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Bassey wondered why the government merely told farmers they were being given improved beans varieties, alleging that deception has been used to exploit the ignorance of farmers on GM crops.

According to him, “Farmers were given the cowpea to plant and some journalists did investigation by going round the country to check out how these varieties faired. One thing that came out of the interview of the promoters of GMOs was that the farmers were not told that they were planting GMOs. And why were they not told?, because the promoters claim that they could not explain it in a way the farmers will understand it. So if you cannot explain a technology, why are you pushing it onto Nigerians?

“They’re just being told that it is an improved varieties. Call them genetically modified beans let people know, let people choose if they eat it or not. But we find a situation apart from labelling farmers are not told. So, people are planting these kinds of crops out of ignorance.”

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The HOMEF Director also called for a stricter regulation and control on the agricultural products imported into the country.

He said many genetically modified products, including GM wheat are making their way to the Nigerian market without product examination or approval.

“It is unethical, it is illegal, it is unconstitutional, to force us to eat a variety (of food) that we don’t know and don’t choose to eat. We have done market surveys just to look at what is being imported. And we discovered that anything is being imported. Nobody is stopping anything, no approvals.

“GMOs are coming to this country through food products and they are not examined or considered before they are allowed to come onto the market shelves. Sometimes we ask all the agencies do you have a hand before this was approved and they were not even aware.” Bassey revealed.

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Describing the situation as “worrisome,” he tasked the government on the need to quickly re-examine the food security framework and systems in the country to protect Nigerians from consuming crops that would destroy “our biodiversity and lower resilience to disease and to other disasters.”

Also, Program Manager, HOMEF, Joyce Brown, said there is no proper documentation on the risk assessments of the genetically modified cowpea handed to farmers.

According to her, there are no reports of test carried out on the GM cowpeas, adding that Nigerian farmers “are being ambushed to plant and eat what they don’t know.”

Cowpea (beans) is a highly proteinous food, consumed by an estimated 200 million people in Africa daily. Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer and consumer of cowpea. However, the country’s annual production deficit of cowpea grains stands at more than 500,000 metric tonnes, opening the door for importation to meet demands.

Joyce, a food sovereignty advocate explained that many farmers across Nigeria have already planted, harvested, eaten and sold the beans of concern without having knowledge of the product and associated risks.

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She said, “Now, the issue is that we are concerned that we have not conducted enough risk assessments. Several times we have written to the agency, let us see the reports of the risk assessments conducted on this particular product before it was approved for importation, the answer is go to the website, and severally we checked the website, the information was not there.

“These are some of the reasons why we said we are being ambushed as a country into using genetically modified products. Because we haven’t conducted enough tests. We haven’t done long term assessment.”

HOMEF disclosed that it has carried a survey “on the BT cowpea that has been approved for commercial release. We got information that cowpea has been distributed to farmers across the 36 states. Now we tried to go around some of these states to ask farmers how is it like and a number of them do not know that they are planting GMO cowpea, they do not know the implication. They don’t even know what the process of genetic modification is. Nor do they know how that modification affects them or their farmland.”

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Speaking further, Joyce called for a proper labelling of genetically modified products. This, according to her will avail Nigerians the opportunity to choose what to eat and what not to eat and stop citizens from ignorantly consuming GM products one way or the other.

She stressed that a proper labelling of products is helpful for tracing and adequate food control and security in the country.

At the time of this reporting, efforts to get reactions from the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), whose portfolio includes the regulation of GMOs in the country were yet to materialise.

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