Nigeria does not need GM "super cassava"
Environmental Rights Action (Nigeria), 6 March 2009
It was recently reported that the Nigerian Biosafety Committee has given "approval" for the Nigerian National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) located at Umudike near Umuahia, Abia State, to conduct "contained" field trials of genetically modified cassava on a 100 X 100 metres plot near a fish pond on the banks of Qua Iboe River. They plan to commence these trials in April 2009 and end in September 2010. The report states that the GM cassava is alleged to contain "30 times as much beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, as its normal counterpart." It is also said that, "ultimately it is hoped the cassava will contain increased levels of iron, protein, zinc and vitamin E that will meet the minimum daily allowance in a 500 gram meal."
Information about this unacceptable "approval" was released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Chicago, the United States on the 13th of February 2009 by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (the "Danforth Center") when they announced that the Nigeria's National Biosafety Committee had given its approval for the Center, in St Louis, Missouri, to carry out field trials for Genetically Modified (GM) cassava in Nigeria. The Nigerian National Root Crops Research Institute of Nigeria is merely a front institution for this adventure.
This response is to set out clearly the objection of ERA and other NGOs, CBOs, civil society and farmers groups' rejection of any ploy to introduce genetically modified cassava into Nigeria.
We demand that the so-called approval be set aside and the NRCRI be restrained from carrying out any form of field trial of genetically modified cassava in Nigeria.
A. The Nigerian Biosafety Bill: The Nigerian Biosafety law is still in draft form and is yet to be presented to the National Assembly for deliberation and possible passage into law. However Nigeria has a Biosafety Policy that currently acts as a guideline for Biosafety matters. Under the policy, the National Biosafety Agency (NBA), which is under the Ministry of Environment, has the sole authority to approve applications and issue permits for the use of products of modern biotechnology. The National Biosafety Committee (NBC) is only to act in an advisory capacity. It is therefore shocking to read that the NBC granted approval to the Danforth Center to carry out field trials, for the genetically engineered so-called Super Cassava.
B. Vitamin A Cassava a grand illusion: A replay of the Golden Rice hoax: An example of nutrition-enhanced rice is when the infamous Golden Rice was first developed in 1999, and was offered as the panacea for Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). The transgenic rice however had fundamental problems. An adult would need to eat up to 9 kg of cooked rice a day for the required intake of vitamin A, whereas eating just two carrots would suffice. Syngenta had tried over the years to introduce a new strain of transgenic rice that contains a higher level of pro-vitamin A. But ten years after the production of the first Golden Rice, it is yet to be commercialized and many questions remain unanswered.
C. The NRCRI application letter sent to the minister of Environment, Housing and Urban Development, dated November 14, 2008, leaves many questions unanswered and it is surprising that any kind of approval would be accorded it. The Institute said it would work closely with an unknown office it termed "Nigerian Biosafety Office," an indication that the NRCRI may not be fully informed about the structure of the biosafety regime in the country. Other areas of concern in the application are a number of loopholes such as:
1. The genotype line the NRCRI intends to insert is a “single trait” even though it added that “no traits have been stacked at this time” clearly indicating that this is an incomplete application.
2. The application acknowledges that insect agents such as wasps and honeybees can disperse cassava pollens. They claim that once the pollens emerge they will be removed before pollinators reach them. Ants are also known transport cassava seeds. These is a clear admission that should these GM cassava be eventually approved our cassava biodiversity will be severely eroded.
3. The application asserts that the source of the transgenes "is not likely to affect the safe conduct of a confined field trial." This is clearly an uncertainty.
4. The applicants also stated, "there are no expected changes in toxicity or allergenicity by the intended changes." This claim does not eliminate the risk.
5. NRCRI intends to use the antibiotic neomycin phosphotransferase II (npttII) in the transfection process. Antibiotics in modified crops when consumed, can lead to antibiotic resistance making treatment difficult in case of illness.
D. Nutrition enhanced plants are usually engineered to make molecules that are biologically active in animals. According to research scientists, the transfection process of making GM crops causes random mutations that can alter the already unpredictable plant metabolism and this causes unforeseen interactions between overproduced metabolites from introduced enzymes and normal plant metabolism. These pose serious risks.
E. There are clinical implications if our diet is altered with biologically active compounds and can seriously affect human development.
F. This is also another fundamental problem with the development of this 'improved' new variety of vitamin A cassava. The big question is, how much of it dose an adult eat to get this vitamin A? Its know gainsaying that there are several better, cheaper and already proven solutions. Even IITA had also developed cassava varieties in Nigeria, which it said, have been introduced throughout Africa's cassava belt. Also confirming this was Emmanuel Azaino, who in a recent interview with the Punch Newspaper, revealed that that IITA has developed 10 varieties of cassava for Delta State, in Nigeria. The Ministry of Agriculture officials in Nigeria confirmed that there are over 40 hybrid varieties of cassava that have the capacity to resist the cassava mosaic disease, the very problem that GM cassava is being produced to solve. Only about 10 of these varieties have so far been made available to farmers. Even the World Bank has admitted that rediscovering and using local plants and
conserving vitamin A rich fruit and vegetables has dramatically reduced the number of VAD threatened children in inexpensive and efficient ways. So why the push for this GM Cassava?
G. The Danforth Center made it public knowledge that "We need to start making plans for how these product developments are going to be carried out in our countries of interest and how these products are going to meet the regulatory requirements of those countries." They were looking for countries that have big markets for their products. Nigeria, one of the world's largest producers of cassava tubers - with over 34 million metric tons produced annually since 2004 and consumed by millions of people, became their spot.
H. It also appears that there is a systematic attempt at breaking down Africa's regulatory resistance to GM crops. Their strategy received a boost when on the 9th of January 2009, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center a $5.4 million grant. According to the report "the funding will help the center secure the approval of African governments to allow field testing of genetically modified banana, rice, sorghum and cassava plants that have been fortified with vitamins, minerals and proteins. These crops are mainstays in the diets of millions in developing countries around the globe". It is incredible that the Gates Foundation is giving out whopping sums of money openly, for the lobbying of African governments, to open up their environment for GM crops. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation are the brains behind the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Their strategy and objectives are thinly veiled.
I. Most of the GM crops currently planted in the world today are engineered to allow the use of chemical herbicides on them and for insect resistance. This attempt to introduce the so-called super cassava is another effort to use Africa as a testing ground for so-called nutritionally enhanced crops. Over 80% of current GM crops are used as animal feed in Europe and North America. They require expensive and harmful inputs such as increased dependence on pesticides.
Keep GMO Cassava off Our Table
Cassava is Nigeria's staple food crop. Millions of people depend on it and it should not be toyed with. There are many varieties of cassava already adapted to our environment and meeting the needs of the people. Our farmers have grown cassava over time and have mastered cultivation methods and processes that are both beneficial to the environment and sustainable. Nigerians and indeed Africans do not need an exotic genetically engineered cassava of dubious value that may lead to yet unknown health complications and would definitely lead to a severe erosion of our biodiversity.
The craze to genetically modify cassava plants has been on for sometime. It started as a routine in advanced laboratories that invested in the technology during the 1990s.
Subsequently, from research carried out by biotech industry, they saw cassava, as a gateway to controlling Africa. A goldmine, if they could have a success story with cassava, the main source of food eaten daily by the people in the Continent, they would have won their long battle to convince the world that GM food is safe.
The cassava genome project is spearheaded by a consortium made up of: the Danforth Center, the USDA, Washington University in St Louis, the University of Chicago, the Institute of Genomic Research, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Broad Institute, Ohio State University, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, and the Smithsonian Institute.
The Danforth Center is claiming they can feed Africa with GM cassava and that they have a virus-resistant cassava plant that no African country is taking. In their efforts to bring genetically modified crops into Nigeria they took the entire Nigeria's Biosafety Committee to Missouri, USA, to showcase biotech crops.
The Danforth Center receives heavy funding from Monsanto one of the major GM crops companies, whose track record has brought sorrow to many poor farmers. Danforth Center, Monsanto Corporation and the Missouri Botanical Garden had dabbled into the research on transgenic varieties of cassava for the past ten years. According to the Danforth Center's website, it has been pursuing a Disease-Resistant Cassava for Kenya Project, with funding from USAID. Their hope has been to develop and deliver transgenic, disease-resistant cassava planting materials to farmers in Kenya to increase yield and improve food security.
Reports reveal that, the Danforth Center quietly announced on the 26th May 2006, that it had discovered that a GM virus-resistant variety of cassava was subsequently lost, and that methylation of the plant's DNA had taken place. This failure undermines the claim on the Danforth Center's website that "transgenic plants developed at the Danforth Center have demonstrated strong resistance to the disease in greenhouse trials over multiple years."
In 2006, sources informed FoE Nigeria that an application for "contained" field trial of GM cassava was received from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the National Biotechnology Development Agency and the Donald Danforth Plant science Center, by the Federal Ministry of Environment. It was reportedly being processed until early 2006, when IITA wrote to the Ministry to stop the application because the test (carried out by them in USA) failed to confer the resistance against the Cassava Mosaic Disease. These GM crops promoters must not be allowed to use Nigerians as Guinea pigs.