LEGISLATION / POLITICS

Federal agencies as unwitting pawns in re-colonisation

MONDAY April 20, 2015, one week before the handover, former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Bio-safety Agency Bill into law.

The Director-General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency, Prof. Lucy Ogbadu described the signing of the bill into law as a milestone in the domestication of modern biotechnology in Nigeria, adding that this would allow the country to join the league of nations advanced in the use of this cutting-edge technology as another window to boost economic development.

“It will create more employment, boost food production that will put a smile on the faces of farmers and alleviate hunger if given good attention by the government.” Unfortunately this is not the case.

The Bio-safety Bill is a ruse, a veil under which Monsanto, Dupont, Sygenta and similar foreign Bio-tech companies can achieve a strong foothold in Nigeria with the sole aim to create a dependent market for their patented genetically modified seeds (GMOs) and pesticides.

There will be no improved research or innovative cutting edge solutions to our problems as she claims; neither would we be joining a league of advanced nations, specifically because six out of the eight countries that make up the G8 have outright bans on these companies and their products. Such countries include France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia and most of the EU.

This story will end exactly the same way the Ajaokuta Steel scam ended, with Nigeria holding the short end of the stick except that in this situation it is the wellbeing and livelihoods of the Nigerian people that will be sacrificed.

Genetic modification is the invasive scientific manipulation of plant or animal genes at a molecular level to give it certain properties. In this context, the plant is modified by Bio-tech companies to withstand unhealthy dosage of pesticides/herbicides produced by the same bio-tech companies. This is achieved by inserting a Bt gene acquired from bacteria into the genome of plants like corn, cowpea, cassava, etc. This then allows the plant to survive the lethal dosage of their pesticides at the detriment of soil health, harmful pollution to the air and the poisoning of the water system.

Aside from false promises of higher yields, less pesticide use, etc, GMOs are nothing more than patented pesticide delivery systems designed to increase the sales of poisonous agrochemicals such as Roundup, Glufosinate, Bt 2,4D, Astrazine and Neonicotinids. Such chemicals are sold under dubious labels of being bio-degradable which have since proved to be false.

These foreign agricultural bio-technology corporations have lobbied long and hard on every continent to ensure that weak assessment models are the norm. The result has been the creation of models for safety assessment that favour easy approval of GMOs without rigorous assessment of health or environmental risks. NABDA is one of such creations, and its major partner is MONSANTO, the very same company it should be regulating.

In response to an interview of the NABDA boss speaking on the bio-safety bill, Nnimmo Bassey had this to say:
“You know how bad things have gone when public officials become Monsanto’s spokespersons. The claim that any biotech company promotes diversity of seeds or seeds sources is simply turning logic and reality upside down. The thrust of the industry is monopoly and profit. NABDA should focus on research and not sell an image as agent of corporate interests. In these days of novel health challenges Nigerians will do well to avoid experimental cow-boy technologies.”

Friday, March 20, 2015, the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the herbicide glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup – and the insecticides malathion and diazinon as “probably carcinogenic.” The next day Sri Lanka’s newly elected president, Maithripala Sirisena, enforced a prohibition on the use or sale of glyphosate products after health professions discovered that glyphosate was the main cause for kidney disease in the country. The Swiss did the same shortly after the French, Dutch and Germans placed a ban as well. NAFDAC’s silence on this matter is especially disconcerting, especially after one considers the following:

“The few scientific researches done on the effects of these foods on humans have showed stunted growth, impaired immune systems, bleeding stomachs, abnormal and potentially precancerous cell growth in the intestines, impaired blood cell development, misshaped cell structures in the liver, pancreas and testicles, altered gene expression and cell metabolism, liver and kidney lesions, partially atrophied livers, inflamed kidneys, less developed organs, reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, inflamed lung tissue, increased death rates and higher offspring mortality as well. Repeated use of seeds like Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready soybeans results in vicious new super-weeds that need far greater amounts of stronger herbicides to combat. Their toxic residues remain in crops that humans and animals then eat. Even small amounts of these toxins are endocrine disruptors that can affect human reproduction adversely. Most recently, tests showed the presence of the herbicide glyphosate, widely used with Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant GM soybean and maize varieties, in samples of mothers’ breast milk in the United States.”  Ify Aniebo (BSc, MSc, MRes, MPH) is a molecular geneticist from Oxford University, with a masters degree in public health. She was also recognised by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan during the centenary celebrations as an inventor and innovator.

Sunday, August 9, 2015, the Scottish government announced that it would formally prohibit the growing of genetically modified crops. Richard Neilson Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment said the following: “The Scottish government was not prepared to “gamble” with the future of the country’s £14 billion food and drink sector, Scotland was known around the world for its “beautiful natural environment” and banning the growing of genetically modified crops would protect and further enhance its “clean, green status.”

Thursday, August 20, 2015, Mexico’s XII District Court overturned a 2013 ruling that prevented biotech companies, including Monsanto and Syngenta, planting genetically modified (GM) maize in Mexico. The ruling follows two years of 93 appeals by the Biotech Industry after the planting of GMO Maize was banned in September 2013 by Judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo J. Citing “the risk of imminent harm to the environment” as the basis for his decision, Justice Eduardo’s decision took into consideration a major disadvantage of GMO technology: The contamination of natural varieties due to wind and pollen drift. This phenomenon was first noticed in the corn belt of Mexico prompting a federal judge to order Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture to immediately “suspend all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in the country.”

Another factor that would seem beyond control is corruption. Corruption of science, the political process and news media outlets is nothing new. The tobacco companies were aware of the link between smoking and cancer, decades before succumbing to pressure by independent scientists to tell the truth. In those decades, they employed several corrupt strategies to hide their lies. From lobbying the government, castigating scientists and anyone that offered a different view point to theirs as well as paying writers, scientists and doctors to alleviate the growing public fear. This same method has been adopted by Monsanto, Sygenta and other Bio-tech companies.

FOR example, DDT was lauded as being safe for decades, it turned out to be carcinogenic, Agent Orange, PCBS, Bovine growth hormone and now glyphosate have finally been classified as carcinogenic. Monsanto was fined $1.5 million for bribing an Indonesian official in a bid to avoid environmental impact studies being conducted on its cotton. Furthermore it has been shown that Pro-Gmo lobbyist and reporters are either trained to report positively on GMOs.

Recently, Patrick Moore a GMO lobbyist when speaking about Monsanto herbicides, claimed on national TV: “You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you.” But when the reporter told him that they had prepared a glass and invited Moore to drink it, he refused, saying “I’m not stupid.”

It would be great if the former President Jonathan that signed the bill, Dr. Adesina Point man for Bio-tech in Nigeria and Prof. Lucy Ogbadu as well as all the senators who sponsored this bill, could relocate to the rural areas where these toxic chemicals will be sprayed and foods will be grown.

They tell us that GMOs are safe yet no test is carried out by the government regulators or the food producers on the effect of their un-natural food products on the end consumers.

Instead we see confusion, as seen below.
“Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety” – FDA, “Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties” (GMO Policy), Federal Register, Vol. 57, p. 229
“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” – Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications. “Playing God in the Garden,” New York Times Magazine

Instead we see utter irresponsibility as seen below.

“One thing that surprised us is that U.S. 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 U.S. 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.” – David Schubert, Professor and Head, Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, Salk Institute, commenting on a comprehensive peer-reviewed study of U.S. government’s regulation of GMOs.

If our leaders so obviously do not care for the well being of the citizenry or our environment, surely we should be smart enough to avoid the mistakes we made with our oil industry. We have identified the need for a green revolution as a source to not only feed ourselves but also export. Should we not manage and control our supply chain independently, as opposed to surrender our food supply to foreign multinationals whose primary goal is to make us completely dependent on them to eat, through their patent seeds? These genetically modified seeds cannot be replanted, the offspring are either infertile or due to patent right claims by the companies, it is illegal to replant the seeds (replanted seeds also yield a dismally poor harvest). This then locks the farmer into dependency on these foreign-biotech companies for seed every year. In doing this, a primary input of agriculture which exists abundantly is now monopolised and commoditised.

The demand for natural pure foods is at an all time high; people are looking for a healthy lifestyle to stem the sicknesses that have been introduced into society by corporations that put the dollar above the well being of the consumer, Mcdonald stores are shutting down all over America due to a decline in demand while natural food stores are expanding. Is it not foolishness to trade our natural healthy foods for Lab made foods? Especially with the huge potential for exports.

Furthermore, Nigerian agricultural products would not be accepted into most of Europe due to Europe’s anti-GMO stance, this means Nigeria will be locked into a trade/export relationship with USA, which already produces more than enough food.

It is very ironic that the six of the eight countries supporting the agric G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition initiative, have strict rules against GMOs and the companies that proffer them in their respective countries. It is also ironic that this alliance has been widely criticised as a new wave of colonialism in Africa because it favours big international agri-business at the detriment of small holder farmers.

Monday, August 24, as I write this, The German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidit announced that in addition to its existing bans on GMO cultivation, it will make use of the “Opt-out” rules to stop GMO crop cultivation even if varieties are approved by the EU.
In the words of the Russian Prime minister, Medvedev
“If the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food,”

President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia in his speech at the State Opening of the National Assembly for the 2015 legislative year said “(Gambia) will never accept GM food”. “I must emphasize here that despite our obsession with becoming a major food exporter after 2016, we will never accept genetically Modified Organisms in our agriculture. The Gambia is strictly maintaining organic agriculture for both our consumption and export.”

We are the giants of Africa not a toxic dump; we are Nigerians not test subjects; we voted for change in the hope of replacing a political class that had come to see themselves as gods and believed it is in their right to impose unnatural foods on us as well as use the Nigerian populace as lab rats. I hope to see in due course the value and well being of the Nigerian citizens placed above dollar interest of a few selfish individuals.

•Concluded

• Rhodes-Vivour wrote from Lagos.

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