Technology

February 7, 2024

War over genetic modified crops as Biotech experts trade words @ NASS

GMO foods ‘ll sterilize Nigerians – GPA

•You’re living in the past, claims unscientific – Biotech Society of Nigeria

By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor

Last week, lovers of genetically modified fruits and other food items were thrown into serious panic following a letter to the National Assembly, NASS, written by the Chairman of Global Prolife Alliance, GPA, Dr Philip Njemanze, seeking for total ban on genetically modified foods describing them as national threat.

The letter, “National Security Threat: Biotech Terrorism Using GMO Seeds” which a copy was sent to the Presidency claimed that certain GMO foods, like corn allegedly contain an Epicyte gene linked to sterilization, saying that allowing such foods will amount to mass sterilization of Nigerians.

Part of the letter read “ the terminator gene, a genetic use restriction technology, GURT, makes plants produce sterile seeds in second generation, known as suicide seeds. Biotechnology companies intend to permanently control Nigeria’s food security by ensuring farmers must purchase seeds each planting season. This would result in the perpetual capture of the country’s financial, health natural and human resources by foreign biotechnology investors.

“To address these security concerns, the government should consider implementing a complete ban on all GMO seeds and crops in Nigeria”

However, the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria (BSN) has reacted to the allegations, describing Dr Njemanze’s position as primordial and archaic. The society said his letter portrayed him as one who may have not appreciated technology and the huge advancements it has brought to livelihoods globally.

The Society said as plant and food biotechnology expert and promoter, it strongly urge NASS not to heed Njemanze’s advice because it is not only unfounded but also not backed by any scientifically proven evidence.

It insisted that genetically modified crops are not a national security threat or form of biotech terrorism, because they have been rigorously tested and regulated before commercial release to ensure safety for human health and the environment, even as they have been happily consumed in Europe, America, South Africa, China and other parts of Asia for more than 25 years, without  adverse effects.

In a counter letter to NASS by the society’s President, Prof Sylvia Uzochukwu, she claimed that “Kenya was misled into imposing a ban on GMOs in 2012, by uninformed extremist anti GMO activists. Ten years later, in 2022, the country was forced to lift the ban after four seasons of drought and crop failure that were the worst in 40 years. The scientists advised the government that only resort to the likes of TELA maize, a drought resistant GMO, could save their country from total devastation by the drought. The 2012 decision against all scientific advise, proved nearly fatal for that country. Nigeria must not allow itself to be pushed into similar errors by loud and vocal anti GM activists that mean no good to the country, when there are scientific experts within and outside the country, from whom to verify the facts”.

She argued that Transgenic Cowpea and TELA maize were developed by Nigerian scientists to benefit the nation’s smallholder farmers. The transgenic cowpea is resistant to destructive pod borers, which typically destroy 80 percent of cowpea crops. This resistance is helping farmers boost their yields several folds. TELA maize is drought tolerant and resistant to fall army worm to enable farmers optimize yield and profits. Withdrawing these crops would deprive farmers of tools to improve their livelihoods and boost food security in the country.

Uzochukwu told NASS that “Njemanze’s letter’s incendiary language linking GMOs with terrorism is very dangerous mischief, and highly concerning. It is calculated to spread misinformation and fear without any scientific basis. Biotechnology improves crops through very precise changes at the molecular level to introduce beneficial traits.

“There is international scientific consensus on GM crop safety, upheld by regulatory agencies and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine globally, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA),  the American Academy of Science, African Science Academies, European Academies of Science and many others. Nigeria’s genetically modified products have also passed the usual rigorous biosafety assessments before approval for commercial planting.

“As lawmakers, we urge you not to limit access to innovations that can alleviate poverty and ensure sustainable food security for the country. Nigerian and international scientists have developed responsible, regulated solutions that guarantee yield, better lives for small holder farmers through modern crop breeding methods. Please always consider the humanitarian national implications and support our farmers and the general consuming public, by maintaining policies guided by science.

“As devoted advocates for plant biotechnology and its potential to transform agriculture, we  would like to present a balanced perspective on the matter and highlight the numerous benefits that transgenic crops bring to our nation.

“First and foremost, it is crucial to acknowledge that biotechnology, including genetic modification, has played a pivotal role in enhancing crop productivity and ensuring food security globally. In the context of Nigeria, the adoption of transgenic Cowpea and TELA Maize presents significant advantage that directly contributes to the well-being of our citizens and the overall prosperity of our nation” she added.

Benefits of GMO crops

.Increased Crop Yield: Transgenic crops have been engineered to express traits that confer resistance to pests, diseases, and environmental stress. The incorporation of these traits in Cowpea and TELA Maize has the potential to significantly increase yield, ensuring a more abundant and stable food supply.

Enhanced Pest Resistance: By adopting genetically modified crops, Nigeria can reduce its reliance on chemical pesticides, promoting a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to agriculture.

Improved Nutritional Content: Genetic modification can be employed to enhance the nutritional profile of crops. TELA Maize, for example, has been developed to contain higher levels of essential nutrients, contributing to better public health outcomes.

Economic Advantages: Transgenic crops can lead to increased farm incomes due to higher yields and reduced production costs.