GMOs debate: Waiting for Nigeria, others

If there is any issue that portends danger to the overall health of consumers of agro products in Nigeria, it is unarguably Genetically Modified Organisms. Though the Federal Government has not taken a concrete stand on the issue, not a few consumers are oblivious that chances are their breakfast, lunch and supper contain some amount of GMOs. 

It is possible that there is no right answer to the question of whether foods should be labelled to indicate genetic modification. Developments in the genetic engineering of food have been heralded by proponents and reviled by detractors. Proponents argue that GM plants are beneficial, such as decreased pesticide use, increased vitamin content and improved crop yields. For opponents, the technology poses significant risks, such as gene drift, production of new allergens or toxins and the transfer of GM proteins to human cells.

Regardless of the contention between the two sides, the presence of GMOs across consumer markets portends a grave risk to consumers, and has, for many years, become a subject of debate among Nigerian scientists, who have stood their ground that low awareness trails its presence, insisting that they have harmful effects.

Ignorance in the mix 

While Mama Ronke, who retails foodstuff in Ikeja, Lagos, claims not to know about GMOs. Her spoken English gave her out as educated, at least to O’level.

 Like Mama Ronke, many food sellers in Lagos and Ogun states told Financial Street that they had never heard about GMOs. 


Health risks

“It is pragmatic for the government and its agents to speak in one voice on the issue of GMO vis-à-vis the appropriateness of consuming them, and thereafter keep consumers informed,” says Kingsley Aghadiuno.

The need for consumers to be enlightened on the issue of GM foods cannot be over-emphasised, as their consumption are known to pose a wide range of health risks for consumers, in the form of high levels of toxicity, cancer and allergic reactions.

It is against the backdrop of the dangers that the appositeness of GM foods has over the years become an issue in modern agriculture. However, in as much as the issue has, for long, been shrouded in ignorance, it can be sid in this context that with the help of the Internet and the explosion of social media in Nigeria, people are even more aware today than it was years back. But the awareness is dogged by resentment.

Expert tasks govt on regulation

Last March, a nutrition security expert, Adedotun Owolabi, had urged the Nigerian government to pay better attention to the regulation of GM foods, while encouraging the fortification of local food products with vital nutrients.

According to the diet expert, Nigeria should look into the importation and consumption of GM foods because of the uncertainty about their safety. Stressing the importance of regulating such foods, he noted that the safety of GMOs  is still in contention around the world.

While most European countries have banned them due to health concerns, they have received favourable regulations in the United States and Brazil, he added.

Owolabi also noted that Nigeria should focus on the bio-fortification of food products, which is the process of breeding staple crops to have higher levels of essential nutrients either through selective breeding or genetic modification.


NBMA’s verdict 

National Biosafety Management Agency stated, recently, that all approved GMOs in Nigeria are safe for human consumption.

The Director General, Dr Rufus Ebegba, stated this in Abuja at the Science Hangout organised by Alliance for Science Nigeria, in collaboration with NBMA and Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, with the theme, ‘Nigeria’s Biosafety Regime for GMOs.’

He explained that the approved GM foods had been subjected to rigorous process and scrutiny before they were released for use.

According to him, before the official release of GMOs, it would take up to 13 years of rigorous process, to do a risk assessment on the issues of culture, environment and human health, among others.

As gathered by Financial Street, GM crops are grown around the world by approximately 17 million farmers, most of them in developing countries. In total, more than 70 countries import or grow GMOs, and in 2019, 29 countries (five industrial and 24 developing) planted biotech crops.  As of 2019, the top five countries growing GMOs in terms of crop area are the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India.


Over to Nigeria

Israel Osamudiamen, an agriculturist, in his contribution to the appropriateness of consuming GM foods by Nigerians, urged the government to take a stand, depending on the level of investigation carried out, to ascertain whether GM Foods are nutritious for consumers or not. He added that the government should publicly approve it or disapprove it, rather than allowing its agencies to be making contentious statements. 

A stakeholder, Jeff Egwuonu says, “Not few countries have approved GM foods, just the same way not few countries have disapproved it. Therefore, Nigeria should make a pronouncement on it as we are neither here nor there on the issue of GMOs.”

Get in Touch


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles