By Philip Njemanze
The National Assembly passed the Biosafety bill for an Act to provide for the establishment of the National Biosafety Management Agency. The bill has been trumped up by the international biotechnology conglomerates and their national partners at the National Biotechnology Development Agency.
The Director General, Professor Lucy Ogbadu, said the bill,“will provide a regulatory framework in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria.” The Federal Government in year 2000, signed and approved the international binding biosafety protocol known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
However, there has been little public discussion of the real facts contained in the bill. The propaganda has been that, the so-called biosafety bill addresses the safe transfer and handling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Does it really do that? Or is it to provide a legal backing for the international biotechnology conglomerates to take over the entire food security of the country and expose Nigerians to enormous health risks?
The joint committee of the Global Prolife Alliance and the Association of Catholic Medical Practitioners of Nigeria have examined in detail, the provisions of the biosafety bill, and excerpts are given below. Other organisations like the Food Sovereignty and Agrofuels Programme Environmental Rights Action/Friends of Earth Nigeria have also emphasised the risks and the roles played by the biotechnology conglomerates especially the biotechnology company, Monsanto, St. Louis, Missouri, USA and the Danforth Foundation, under the sponsorship of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In general, the hidden purposes of the Biosafety bill are:
(1) To introduce an absolute monopoly of food production in Nigeria for the sole ownership of patented GMOs food products by biotechnology conglomerates;
(2) To permit the biotechnology companies to control food prices;
(3) To introduce genes for control of fertility and hence population, cause programmed famine and hold to ransom the National Security of the country,
(4) GMOs have terminator genes which do not permit replication or restrict it;
(5) GMOs are mono-crops that are planted at specific sites and takes out specific nutrients from the Nigerian soil, which would become deficient in vital nutrients and become absolutely dependent on imported fertilisers and pesticides;
(6) GMOs would endanger the growth of other natural crops by contamination from cross pollination;
(7) GMOs according to the US Department of Agriculture report confirms the poor yield performance of GM crops, saying, “GE crops available for commercial use do not increase the yield potential of a variety. In fact, yield may even decrease.”
In 2008, the United Nations International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development also concluded that GM technology is not likely to contribute significantly to increasing yield potential in the future Nigeria would move from relative food security to absolute ‘food dependence’ on the outside world.
These were the arguments for the rejection of GMOs in the EU, Russia, Britain and other countries, a campaign spear-headed by Prince Charles of Great Britain.The title of the bill labelled ‘biosafety’ is totally deceptive, designed to distract the public, who are generally impatient to read the fine prints. It is but a rubber stamp for all GMOs imported or grown in Nigeria to avoid independent rigorous scientific testing.
The bill will permit trafficking of illegal GMO foods through Nigeria to other African countries. Specifically, the bill states in: Section 32 (1) Every applicant seeking approval for any genetically modified organism under this Act shall, prior to the submission of the application, carry out a mandatory risk assessment of the potential risk the genetically modified organisms pose to human health, animal, plant or the environment in Nigeria.
Section 32 (4) Where the National Biosafety Committee carries out the risk assessment, the Agency may direct that such applicant bears the cost of carrying out the risk assessment notwithstanding that the applicant has previously carried out his own risk assessment. Common sense would dictate that, there is a clear conflict of interest in Sections 32 (1) and (4), where the applicant is the de facto umpire for adjudication of a matter he/she has commercial interest in. As the saying goes ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’
The Biosafety bill in its present form has given financial and legal leverage to the biotechnology conglomerates. The biotechnology firms have very poor records of lack of transparency in matters of biosafety and health, related to their GMOs products.
The revolution in the Nigerian telecommunication industry was only possible due to a transparent process for licensure. The mobile telephone operators were required to pay hundreds of millions of US dollars for licensure on a product with minimal biohazards. There is no requirement for financial obligations for licensure for GMOs products with enormous potential of biosafety and health hazards!
The GMOs pose great risks to the public and should face much higher demands in billions of US dollars as security deposits. The bidding for licensure for specific GMOs food products after safety is guaranteed must be open, competitive, transparent with all information made available in the public domain. If this was not done for the telecommunication industry, we would have created monopolies worse than the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited.
If these conditions are not acceptable to the biotechnology conglomerates then they should not license their products in Nigeria. The reality is that, the process of environmental remediation and compensation of victims in the event of an adverse health effect could cost the Nigerian taxpayer more than five billion US dollars for a single event.
It therefore follows that, companies seeking licensure for GMOs food products should provide a security deposit in the range of billions of US dollars in the event of an adverse effect. Independent research institutions and universities would under research grant from the Federal Government carry out serious peer-reviewed risk assessment on the potential risks to human health, animal, plants and the environment.
The period for assessment of the potential risks should span over a five-year period (not 270 days as proposed in bill) to allow proper scientific evaluation of the data presented and its rebuttal. This will assure that biotechnology companies marketing GMOs food products would not use Nigeria as a dumping ground. The safety issues would be taken very seriously.
Now, the question arises, what potential good could come from legalisation of GMOs food products in Nigeria? Legalisation of GMOs in Nigeria is an ‘economic suicide for small farmers’, because even a one per cent contamination with GMOs products would attract a ban of the food products by the European Union, China, Russia and other advanced countries.
This means that, farmers cannot export even their natural products (contaminated by cross pollination) to earn hard foreign currency. The idea is ‘you produce your GMOs food poisons in Nigeria, you eat it and share it among Africans. The perpetual dependency of small farmers on GMOs patented seeds from major foreign growers who control prices has been a source of grave distress.
The 250,000 BT cotton growers in India who committed suicide as a result of economic hardship is one example of the devastating effects on the small farmers unleashed by GMOs. Large plantations by major biotechnology conglomerates will thrive, while unemployment would rise in rural communities dispossessed by the international biotechnology firms.
President Goodluck Jonathan can only save Nigeria by not assenting to the biosafety bill in its present form.