What are GMOs? (Genetically Modified Organisms)
GMOs are organisms whose genetic structure have been altered using modern biotechnology; simply put, these are plants or animals which have one or more genes added, removed or modified, you remember that high school biology story bout genes right? I know I don’t, so let’s do a recap.
Genes are basically what makes us who we are, they are responsible for every physical characteristic that we exhibit. Genes control height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, hair density, Can you roll your tongue? Some can and others can’t-genes are responsible for that too!
All plants and animals (humans too) have genes unique to their species. GMOs are created by taking genes from one specie and placing it in another so that the new specie produced can exhibit some of the characters of the other species.
The main advantage of GMOs is the ability to combine different characteristics from different species to produce a new plant or animal with both e.g. a specie of tomato may produce high yields but may be susceptible to pests and diseases, a pest and disease resistant gene from another plant is infused into this, so that a new organism that is both high yielding and disease resistant is produced. Sounds good right?
Common uses of GMOs in agriculture include: improved yield, resistance to diseases, reduction of spoilage, improvement of nutrient profile of crops, resistance to herbicides and certain environmental conditions, preservation of endangered species, production of pharmaceuticals (e.g. gene therapy and vaccines against the Ebola virus) and bio-fuels.
When a foreign particle gets into the human body system, our body tries to get rid of it. The liver produces toxins (poisons) that can kill or breakdown whatever the foreign particle is so it becomes harmless, these toxins sometimes induce vomiting, stooling, high body temperature (to kill the particle) or the toxins may work ‘quietly’ without producing any symptoms from the body. The same thing happens in plants, these new genes are strangers to the functioning system of the plants and so the plants also produce toxins to try and destroy these genes, unfortunately genes cannot be killed or destroyed so these toxins tend to accumulate in the plant. When these plants are consumed, the modified genes and toxins can enter into the body of humans and are known to cause a variety of reactions, from simple allergies to cancer.
The production of chemical resistant varieties increasingly affects the biodiversity of the ecosystem, as the genes in these varieties are sometimes toxic to beneficial insects especially pollinators such as bees and butterflies, continuous cultivation of these varieties in an area may see the complete extinction of these agents of pollination, thereby causing unimaginable harm to other crops that depend on them for pollination (reproduction).
Herbicide resistant varieties may become cross pollinated with weeds which promotes the growth and existence of ‘super weeds’ which become resistant to regular herbicides and special herbicides are produced for these weeds, these special herbicide contain untold levels of harmful chemicals that are released into the atmosphere.
GMOs harm the soil in two ways, firstly they can only be produced as monocrops, mono-cropping constantly mines the soil of its nutrients without and organic form of replacement, hence the need to often over apply inorganic or mineral fertilizers which are not very healthy for the soil (more on this later)
Secondly, toxins and strains produced by GMOs have been found to remain in the soil for up to 10 years, this implies that whatever crop is cultivated on that land within that period (GMO or not) will take up these strains and toxins and when these are consumed may produce the same effects as the GMOs.
In April 2015, the former president of Nigeria signed into law the national bio-safety agency bill that allows for the production and importation of GMOs into the country. However, on the assumption of office of the new minister of agriculture, investigations revealed that claims made by a Kenyan Harvard professor who has been in the forefront promoting GMOs (that lead to the bill passage were inaccurate) as stated here.
Sadly, on the 20th of June 2016, the minister of environment released a press statement approving the proposal of one Monsanto agriculture Nigeria Ltd (looks like a Chinese company to me, find them here) seeking for the commercial release and placement in the environment of a GMO cotton (BT cotton) which is insect resistant. According to this article, a similar application was submitted by the same company to Malawi in 2014 for the commercial release of BT cotton, but the Malawian national bio-safety regulatory committee recommended its nullification on the bases that claims of economic gains were false, issues of secondary pests, environmental risks were not addressed.
Why does the Nigerian Government continually fail to carry out adequate research?
Phewww! That was one long post, and I hope it was beneficial. what are your thought on GMOs in Nigeria? As always, I love to hear from you in the comments