GMOs: YES WE ALL HAVE A STAKE!!!

Why should the Government want to Plot such an Evil on us? So asked Timothy, a farmer I met some days ago in a farm behind Asokoro district Abuja after he has heard so much negative stories from the critics of GMOs.

Timothy, like so many other farmers and consumers in Nigeria having heard so much myth about GMOs wants to reconcile the fact that the Government of Nigerian could plot an evil against its citizens as he was made to understand by critics of this technology, though this sounds hard for him to believe. It is obvious Nigerians are begging for the truth and if the truth is kept from us, we may make decisions that will either make or mar our growth in this Country.

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This subject of GMOs and biotechnology recently has made headline discussions in various media houses, social media and among concerned individuals. As Nigeria now make plans towards the commercialisation of biotech products, It is important that the facts about such a controversial and heated subject be available at the door steps of every Nigerian to enable us make informed decisions on the technology. Here are 10 facts i realised from this ongoing-debate around GMOs.

1. GM crops are developed by inserting genes from related or unrelated plant species into another to enable them resist certain factors such as drought, pest and disease. Yes, All Plants have genes! And those genes are exchanged where normal agricultural techniques like layering, budding, grafting is Practiced.

2. Bt (Bacillius thuringenesis) is a non-harmful bacteria found in every soil. It grows with every plant and confers some amount of resistance to insect in such plants. Bt crops are developed when genes from these Bacteria are inserted into such crops to confer additional insect resistance to them. Eg Bt maize, Bt cotton, Bt. Cowpea.

3. Crops are enhanced to improve their nutritional value, thus meeting our nutritional needs. E.g in vitamin A enhanced golden rice; genes from carrot are used to enhance the Vitamin A content.

4. Crops are also enhanced to be resistant to harsh climatic Conditions like drought and flood example is the Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Resistant and Salt Tolerant Rice (NEWEST) Rice that can thrive in Nitrogen deficient and low weather environment.

5. GMOs do not necessarily cause cancer as reported by critics as several regulating authorities including WHO, U.S FDA, FAO and OECD, e.t.c have approved of the safety of GMOs to humans and the environment.

6. All most all conventional foods are not 100% risk free, potatoes contains some amount of solanine that can cause neurological disorders, groundnuts contain aflatoxin, which can cause liver cancer, cassava contains cyanide which kills at raw consumption. This does not mean that conventional potatoes and groundnuts are dangerous to your health but the concentrations are so small to cause any negative health effect (the dose causes the poison) all this factors are taken into consideration.

7. Monsanto is a biotech corporation like Syngenta, Dow agro Sciences, and not the technology, as critics have made Monsanto synonymous with biotechnology, thus judging from a microscopic standpoint of Monsanto rather than the technology itself. Anyone with the capacity can own a biotech corporation and the benefits of biotechnology go far beyond Monsanto.

8. All pro GMO activist are not fans feeding from the pocket of Monsanto as claimed by many, how can all the plant breeders, world acclaimed bodies like WHO, U.S FDA, be paid by Monsanto to support evil in disguise of truth, without an individual of the millions of them having a right conscience?

9. Our Farmers will still have the right over the choice of their seeds, they can decide to grow conventional seeds, but if a farmer requires the added advantage of growing GM varieties, then the farmer has to purchase it from the seed companies and keep to the terms of contract of the company of purchase. It is really an issue of choice that is why the truth is paramount.

10. There are no commercially available GM crops developed yet in Nigeria. All that is available are seeds developed using hybrid technology and imported crops which have not been reported to be unsafe in anyway.

It is therefore obvious that this technology has huge potentials which our nation is interested in exploiting especially in agriculture, as the demand for food is on the increase due to escalating population of its citizens and the current challenges posed to agriculture such as climate change. It should be known that Agricultural biotechnology is not a scientific “be all end all” tool, it will not replace traditional breeding, organic farming, etc but will supplement all this other practices to put enough food on our tables.
It is also not a “saint science” without its negative aspects but the National Biosafety Management Agency was established to regulate this sector, so we can exploit the advantages while ensuring that it is safely practiced and deployed.

Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering is an “Intervention tool” to address problems that ordinary breeding could not address and the choice of its deployment in Nigeria is due to its numerous advantages which outweigh its perceived risks and having a mechanism in place to Carter for this risks. Having this in place and moving towards the commercialisation of the technology, the public require facts rather than falsehood, evidence rather than myths, the technology and not a corporation that will enable all make the right choice which will shape our future. It is however sad that awareness around this technology has really been shaped in a way that shields the facts, we should as citizens be open minded to information on this technology, channel our concerns to relevant authorities and be able to speak out when we find the facts. We have to know the truth, we all have a stake.
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Opuah Abiekwen is a graduate of Genetics and Biotechnology, University of Calabar.