cassava

Nigerian coalition objects to field trials for GM cassava

The Nigerian Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and a coalition of civic groups have warned that the recent government decision to grant permission for the start of confined field trials (CFT) of genetically modified (GM) cassava risks turning the country into a testing ground for “unregulated technologies”.

The organisations were reacting to the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) decision to licence the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and ETHZ Plant Biotechnology Laboratory of Zurich, Switzerland, to begin controlled field trials of transgenic cassava clones (AMY3 RNAi transgenic lines) in the country.

In a statement, the coalition said prior to issuing the licence, the NBMA ignored its 37-page opposing affidavit, which outlined why “this classic staple crop should not be toyed around with by modern agricultural technology merchants”.

“Among our concerns is the fact that the genetic engineering technique used by IITA and ETHZ to product this cassava has never been approved anywhere else in the world. This effectively makes Nigeria a testing field for risky, unregulated technologies.

“We sent our 37-page objection to the NBMA on 21 of August 2017. The NBMA sent a letter via email acknowledging our objection on 20 of September 2017. On 22 September 2017, the NBMA approve the IITA application, just 2 days after acknowledging our objections and saying they would look into them,” the coalition said.

Also read: COMESA urges for consensus on GMOs in Africa

CONTROL AND MONITOR

They argued that CFT is an ongoing scientific research technique, which cannot be used for experimental release or commercial production. The statement said Nigeria has no capacity to control and monitor the human and environmental risks posed by the cultivation and consumption of GM crops, as well as their impact on climate and water resources.

“The possibility of contamination of local cassava cultivars in Ibadan exists because of this CFT. All over Oyo State in Nigeria, cassava is an allogamous plant, which means there is 100% chance of outcrossing.

“Insects pollinate cassava, and this GM cassava will contaminate local varieties or other varieties cultivated for consumptive purposes locally. The stability of the traits involved, the potential for gene flow, and the risks posed by this GM cassava to farmers, consumers, the economy, environment and lots more, remain unknown,” the coalition said.

Further, the groups said by ignoring their objections, the NBMA had demonstrated contempt for public opinion, which risked reducing the whole population into unconsenting guinea pigs.

The groups alleged the purpose of the GM cassava experiment was unclear as there remains a lack of clarity regarding whether the crops produced would be for human or industrial use.

In their objection to the application to experiment with GM cassava, the coalition noted that the applicants had backed their application for testing a novel technology in 2017 using outdated research outcomes that were published as far back as 1974, 1978 and 1984.

They said to date very few RNAi-based plants have been commercialised, except in the US for commodity crops that are primarily used to manufacture animal feeds. The groups called on the Nigerian government to investigate the processes around the issuing of GM test permits by the NBMA.

Also read: Lack of legislation curtails Zambia’s GM cotton trials

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