More than 30 different products, mostly imported from the United States, China, India and South Africa, labeled to be produced with genetically modified ingredients, are on the Nigerian market, research has shown, even though that stakeholders urged the government to review the entire biosecurity architecture in this country, to protect Nigerians from consuming unhealthy foods.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are products of genetic engineering also known as genetic modification (GM) or modern biotechnology. This technology allows scientists to create plants, animals and microorganisms by manipulating genes in ways that are not possible through traditional or natural processes. A survey by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), conducted in nine major cities in Nigeria and at least 10 stores/supermarkets, found that more than 30 products including vegetable oils, cereals, noodles, ice cream , salad creams and food spices, labeled to be produced with genetically modified ingredients are on the Nigerian market.
Although these products may be inexpensive, stakeholders have told me that the crops are genetically engineered to act as pesticides against targeted pests or to resist herbicides. Therefore, GMOs are accompanied by high doses of highly toxic chemicals and linked to serious health problems. Program Manager, HOMEF, Joyce Brown, said the genetic manipulation of crops poses serious problems for food systems, human and environmental health. For example, glyphosate, a major component of the Roundup Ready herbicide that accompanies the majority of genetically modified products, has been considered a possible causative agent, Brown said.
She revealed that several countries have taken a stand against genetically modified food products because they have found that these products do not provide the benefits or exhibit the characteristics that they are supposed to have. To regulate GMOs in Nigeria, the program manager said that the federal government is setting up a regulatory agency called the National Biosafety Management Agency; however, the agency has approved the import of several genetically modified food products into the country.
“In 2020 when we counted there were over 20 approvals. We wrote to the agency to see the report of the risk assessment conducted on these products before they were approved for import and discovered that for some products the assessment covered environmental implications such as how crops interact with other crops, but there was no research done on how GMOs affect long-term human health. Nigerians are ambushed for using genetically modified products,” Brown revealed.
The other issue is labelling, the environmental justice and food sovereignty campaigner, Nnimmo Bassey tells me, adding that “Although the agency has said that GM products are labelled, to enable Nigerians to decide whether they want to eat it or not, it’s not possible for labeling to work in Nigeria, because of the way we sell and consume food. We have food sold in basins and baskets in the common market where the majority of Nigerians buy their produce. How can Nigeria detect beans that have been preserved with GMOs? As a country, we need to take a stand against these products.