As the world grapples with population explosion and a rising determination to stamp out to chronic hunger around the world, it is almost a given that Genetically Modified Foods (GMFs) hold a lot of promise, have come to stay and would feature more prominently on our food menus in the years ahead. But in many quarters, including in Nigeria, critical concerns over Genetically Modified Foods and Genetically Modified Organisms remain.
Young professionals at Wastesmart Initiative, Nigeria’s leading platform for young professionals in Environmental management, bare their minds during an in-house public discourse.
Mr. Idowu Kunlere, the Converner of the Initiative would set the ball rolling for the discussion.
“In Nigeria, unaware to many, Genetically Modified Foods are already in our markets. Depending on how you look at it, that might be a good thing. The pest-resistant, delicious and huge cassava with lower water content, gigantic mangoes that look like tubers of yam, super sweet water melon and a number of other staple foods and fruits in our markets today are genetically modified.
What potential negative impacts or health implications, if any, do Genetically Modified Foods, pose? These are part of the discussion we should be having to prove to skeptics and to reassure the public that GMFs are completely safe and without demerits!”
What are Genetically Modified Foods?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. While Genetically modified foods or GM foods or GMFs, also known as genetically engineered foods or bioengineered foods, are foods produced from organisms that have had changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering
Concerns remain about Genetically Modified Foods
Dr. O. Atolani, a lecturer at the University of Ilorin and one of the mentors on Wastesmart goes further to opine that large amounts of GMFs are already in Nigerian markets: from seedless oranges, to modified guava, hormone chicken etc.
According to Mr. Kunlere, Genetically Modified Foods are one of the best scientific innovations to have soared in popularity across the world in the past few decades. But still, we must be open to talking about, critically examining, sensitising the public, and commit to finding solutions to possible side effects. If anything, we must talk about public concerns.
Dr. Atolani adds to the discussion, “There are some reported negative implications of consuming Genetically Modified Foods. However, there may not be enough literature to confirm affirm all the claims now since such experiments takes years to validate. That is why opposition Philosophical Scientists demand for more years to investigate real impacts. Synthetically altered crops cannot retain the natural safety and integrity of the natural. Some ripe GM tomatoes and peppers can stay one month on your kitchen table without getting rotten. That speaks volumes of biodegradation.” “Some modified chickens are as big as turkeys. Some are concerned that these could lead to more fat accumulation, obesity and other cardiovascular related diseases.”
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In a related development, a few years ago, some reports had it that some scientists wanted to release some GM mosquitoes to one African country to mate with the natural and alter their reproductive status thereby eradicating malaria. The project was stopped as fear grew other the future fate of these mosquitoes, and whether or not, these mosquitoes could develop resistance to drug and insecticides which could be more deadly
And still, another perspective to the issue at hand, “If GMFs are truly safe, why is the cost of organic foods about two to five times that of GMFs in countries where they are legalised?
Mr. Taiwo Olusesi, a biotechnology expert, agrees with him. He adds “We need to seriously sensitise the public. In some cases, seeds (of these modified foods) don’t go more than the f1 (first filial) generation, a huge challenge.”
Proponents say Genetically Modified Foods have come to say
Speaking in support of GMFs, Mr. John Bamigbegbin, a food and climate change researcher adds, “Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have been in existence for over a 1000 years and no one single scientifically proven fact on any negative impacts of GMOs, whether on health or the environment. Concerns on GMFs are all speculations and opinions. Speculations are not fact. Opinions that are subjective remain mere opinions. The Conservatives who are against GMOs, at best, are living in the fear of unknown and spreading such.
Come to think of it… If GMOs are deadly or harmful, would Western Governments, who are known to be responsible when it comes to stuffs like this and very zealous about their citizens’ wellbeing as well as various international health and agricultural agencies not have banned them or recommended their ban?”
He further adds, “Organic foods cost x5 than GMOs because it costs more to produce them. Just like in Nigeria, private schools cost more than government schools.” There’s nothing more to that, it has nothing to do with safety. Organic farmers specially make these products (organic foods) for you. And you ask for them. It is like why are Private Universities in Nigeria x100 costlier than Public Universities. The higher costs of Private Universities do not make Public Universities harmful!”
Strengthening Mr. John’s submission, Mr. Ayodeji Fadeyi adds, “In that case of comparison of private universities with public universities, this is reverse logic. Private Universities should go with GMOs while public universities go with Organics.”
In response, Dr. Atolani opines, “NO single scientific fact? Hnnnn! Well, the question is how safe is “safe”. Many things are legalised in advance countries not on the basis of “safety” but because of cost, profit, politics etc. There are many sponsors of thoughts and opinions of GMFs because of their own peculiar profits. Don’t be deceived or too carried away with GMOs.”
“Some drugs in the Western world are legalised despite reported side effects. Some were allowed because there is no current better alternative, and not because they are really safe. You may check the history of withdrawn drugs (WD) in America and Europe. Some of the drugs are deadly yet legalised. It sometimes takes 100 years to investigate them conclusively.
Nuclear power is “delicate” and forbidden, yet these advanced countries have them. You remember the accident at one of Japan’s nuclear plants?”
“DDT is illegal in America, yet, it remains the largest producer of the pesticides. So who consumes it (DDT)? Some companies still fight to defend it till today.”
“It took hundred years to establish that triclosan and derivatives are carcinogenic. I can confirm to you that it was banned in America this year in all cosmetics like toothpaste, soaps, disinfectants etc. The emphasis is that it (the danger triclosan poses) was not confirmed in few years. Unfortunately, some companies in Europe resist this American ban. Worst still, no one is talking of banning that in Africa yet. There are serious debates at the US’ FDA (Food and Drug Administration) about the concept of antiseptic agents in soaps now. Yet, this has been since ancient Egyptian Sciences.”
“While we understand the profit of GM foods, it’s dangerous to generalise that it’s altogether safe. Even specialised scientists argue that GMF should be examined on a case-by-case basis of the individual food, rather than hasty generalisation. Are we therefore saying local breed chickens are same as genetically modified breed in terms of health implications on consumers? Same goes for GM fishes compared to natural ones.”
“African countries are gullible huge markets for biotech companies specialised in producing these foods and seeds. My brief search on the internet this night (as the discussion started here) revealed a large number of countries could still ban Genetically Modified Foods, some are even in the West.
Besides, it’s not the producers that should prove the safety of their products, or the consumers, but an impartial and equipped regulator). Some GM foods are already linked to obesity and diabetes. This is empirical.
The truth is that there are numerous empirical scientific reports of the dangers of GM, but it’s really more political now than before because biotech companies also sponsor counter reports.
We need not compare. For instance, there is cancer everywhere, but cancer mortality rate in America is now reduced to about 20% as against about 80% in African countries incidences. We don’t have what they have and should be careful comparing ourselves with them.
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Well, we may differ in our opinion on Genetically Modified Foods. It’s a school of thought that has separated friends from ages. But I think we should collectively promote our own organic farming more for now. We are much capable. Personal opinion though.”
Mr Amowie adds his own observation, “Have you heard of genetic diversity loss? Do you know we have no adequate gene bank facility for major crops and animals in cases of loss of genes in organisms (in Nigeria)?
Modification of genes of organisms can lead to unforeseen issues and genetic balance. Can the Nigerian biosafety agency, in its current state, be trusted to guarantee that the foods from GMOs can be safe for consumption and species diversity? Have you read about the potato crop failure in one of the Asian countries due to GMOs agriculture?
Embracing GMOs agriculture is something that should not be rushed into especially for a developing country like Nigeria. We have not gotten to the point yet because we don’t even have well stored genes of indigenous organisms. With the introduction of GMOs production, we will lose our dear indigenous organisms diversity.”
On his own part, Mr. Samuel Olapoju (Bishop Jazz), an international biotechnologist and drug discovery researcher, gave his tactical support GMO but simultaneously strongly advised that a body should be fully empowered and equipped, to ascertain the benefits and safety of GMFs, through exhaustive genetic profiling and screenings, before approval is given for such products to be sold in Nigerian markets.
He further adds, “What is the role of the newly transfected gene(s) in the Genetically Modified Foods? What are the likely effects of gene-to-gene interactions? What are the phenotypic expressions of these genes?
Mind you, all these questions should not be generally answered. It should separately be done for African populations, Asian populations, European populations, and others seperately to fully understand the diverse genetic differences that exist (this is often done for drug testing because our digestive enzymes are “not completely” same). And finally, when they are good to go into marketing, they must be conspicuously labeled. These are few amongst many others that should be put in place. Some say “Nothing has 100% advantages without any disadvantages.””
Dr. Atolani adds further, “The huge volume of natural mangoes, cashews, tomatoes, oranges… that are wasted in Nigeria cannot be fathomed. The truth is that if America has our rich natural resources, GMOs will not thrive or be promoted there.”
“Only few crops can survive their winter, limited rainfall, soil nature etc. Hence, they needed fast growing breeds that can be harvested within a short window of time before snow cover everywhere (sic).
I wish to plead, never to impose my opinion on anyone but that we should search more of balanced “unschemed” reports that are not sponsored on the GMO subject. I’m sure you will likely come to term that there is need for more time and researches before it’s fully legalised (if at all).
Yes, both proponents and opponents may never reach a common ground. Those of us on this (wastesmart) platform truly represent the global perspectives that exist out there that also never agree. If we continue discuss till tomorrow, no viable conclusion might be reached. However, the maturity of our contributions and defense of our thoughts on this platform is quite commendable. It’s not about a winner or loser, but about who learns. The discussion is certainly a fruitful and enlightening one. God bless this group and Nigeria. God bless the silent observers in the group as well!”
Mr. Olaoluwa agrees, “Yep… enjoyed the intellectual interplay. Quite enlightening.”
One thing is clear, the debate won’t end anytime soon. The fate of Genetically Modified Foods could be decided be realities on ground other than science. However, we cannot work on speculations. To lay this issue to rest, once and for all, we need reliable and well investigated scientific data to back up any claims, for or against, Genetically Modified Foods.
Going forward, food security experts, geneticists, policy makers in the agricultural, environment and health sectors, public commentators, industry watchers and other stakeholders have their work well cut out.
- Compiled by: Idowu KUNLERE
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