NIGERIA – A survey by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has found that over 30 different genetically modified (GM) products are in the Nigerian market, despite calls from stakeholders for the government to review the country’s entire biosafety framework in order to shield Nigerians from consuming unwholesome foods.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are products of genetic engineering which is also known as genetic modification (GM) or modern biotechnology. This technology allows scientists to create plants, animals, and microorganisms by manipulating genes in a way that is not possible via traditional or natural processes.
The survey carried out in nine major cities in Nigeria and at least 10 shops/supermarkets, revealed that over 30 products including vegetable oils, cereals, noodles, ice cream, salad creams, and food spices, labeled to be produced with GM ingredients are in the Nigerian market.
“While these products may be cheap, stakeholders told me that crops are genetically modified to act as pesticides against target pests or to be resistant to herbicides, hence GMOs are accompanied by heavy doses of chemicals which are highly toxic and linked to serious health defects,” said Joyce Brown, Programmes Manager, HOMEF.
According to her, genetic manipulation of crops poses grave concern for food systems, human and environmental health. For instance, glyphosate, a major component of roundup-ready herbicide that accompanies a majority of GM products, has been said to be a possible-causing agent, she said.
Brown disclosed that several countries have taken a stand against genetically modified food products because they have found that these products do not give the benefits or show characteristics that they are acclaimed to possess.
To regulate GMOs in Nigeria, the Programmes Manager said the federal government sets up a regulatory agency called the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA). However, the agency has approved several genetically modified food products to be imported into the country.
“As of 2020 when we counted, there were over 20 approvals. We have written to the agency to see the report of the risk assessment conducted on these products before it was approved for importation and we found out that for some products, the assessment was on environmental implication like how crops interact with other crops, but there was no research done in terms of how GMOs affect human health in the long run. Nigerians are being ambushed into using genetically modified products,” she revealed.
Nnimmo Bassey Environmental Justice and Food Sovereignty Activist noted that labeling is also an issue of concern.
“Though the agency said the GM products are labeled, to enable Nigerians decide whether they want to consume them or not, it is not possible for labeling to work in Nigeria, because of the way we sell and consume food.
We have foods being sold in basins and baskets in the common market where a majority of Nigerians buy their products. How can Nigeria detect beans that were preserved with GMOs? As a country, we need to take a stand against these products,” she said.
Nigeria has been leading the African nations in terms of GMO adoption. In February, Nigeria’s NBMA launched the country’s national guidelines on gene editing, a move that was noted as a laudable game-changer for bio-safety activities in Nigeria.
Just last month, the country adopted national guidelines on the regulation of genetically modified plants with multiple improved genes.
Nigeria has so far green-lighted the commercialization of insect-resistant cowpea and TELA maize and is on the verge of releasing an improved GM rice, high-yielding nitrogen-efficient, water-efficient, salt-tolerant (NEWEST).