Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Monsanto Issued Two GMO Permits Despite Objection From 5 Million Nigerians

Food
Monsanto Issued Two GMO Permits Despite Objection From 5 Million Nigerians

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the regulatory body for biotechnology in Nigeria, has issued two permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited for the commercial release and market placement of genetically modified (GMO) cotton and the confined field trial of GMO maize.

The two permits were signed by NBMA director-general Rufus Ebegba on May 1, which happened to be a public holiday.

Monsanto has received permits from Nigeria's biotechnology regulatory body for its Bt cotton and GMO maize. Photo credit: Flickr

According to the Premium Times, this comes despite assurances from Minister of State for Environment Ibrahim Jibril that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country.”

The move has sparked widespread condemnation from 100 organizations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, including farmers, faith-based organizations, civil society groups, students and local community groups.

The coalition has previously expressed concerns about the human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops. They noted that Monsanto’s genetically enhanced crops are designed to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March 2015.

“This is extremely shocking," Nnimmo Bassey, the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundationsaid in response to the development. "Little wonder officials of NBMA, National Biotech Development Agency (NABDA) and their pro-GMO train have been fighting tooth and nail to fool Nigerians by claiming that GMOs are safe! They approved the poorly concocted applications and issued these permits on a Sunday when government offices do not open. In fact, 2nd May was also a public holiday.”

Bassey has been one of the most prominent opponents of genetically modified foods in Nigeria, ever since former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Biosafety Management Bill into law last year, basically opening the doors to GMOs cultivation in the country.

Bassey has accused NBMA's governing board of having GMO proponents such as NABDA and the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria as members.

“Those GMO promoters are concerned with ensuring the profit of biotech entrepreneurs rather than the health and environmental concerns of Nigerians,” he told the Premium Times. “A case in point is that NABDA, a member of the Board of NBMA, is a co-sponsor with Monsanto of the application for the field trials of the GMO maize. We are also appalled that an agency saddled with defending Nigeria’s biodiversity is actively promoting these risky technologies.”

Nigeria's Guardian has published the reasoning behind group's objection to Monsanto's recent permits:

In the objection to Monsanto’s applications, the concerned Nigerians stated that in its application MON 15985, Monsanto is using genes referred to as cry2Ab2 and cry1Ac, which produce Bt toxins that have been synthetically manufactured with no history of safe use in nature.

The insertion of the Antibiotic Resistant Marker Gene (ARMG) causes concerns regarding the potential transfer of antibiotic resistance to other living organisms.

This concern, which is dismissed by the applicant, has been raised by a scientific panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating that this particular ARMG should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market—unfortunately this is what NBMA has released into the Nigerian market.

NMBA's latest action has also provoked the NGO Global Prolife Alliance to call on Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari to dismiss the agency's management and board.

"The recent actions of the management of the NBMA are clear manifestations of the undue interference by biotechnology firms who dictate the actions of their government regulators," Dr. Philip C. Njemanze, MD, Global Prolife Alliance chairman, said. "These actions of the NBMA are dangerous and unpatriotic. They are in violation of food and environmental safety laws in Nigeria. These actions of NBMA display total incompetence and unprofessionalism by the management, and calls into question their fitness to administer such a crucial job of securing the food security of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."

He called the action a "total disregard for the food safety concerns regarding GMOs crops expressed by leading governments around the world, who have had first hand experience with genetically modified maize," pointing to France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Luxemburg, Austria, Hungary and Greece that have banned the same insect-resistant corn variety citing environmental concerns.

Following the intense outcry, Egbeba, the NBMA head, announced at a press conference that no GMO product has been officially released into the Nigerian market yet. He said the agency will be assessing the potential impact of GMOs on human or animal health, the environment as well as its socio-economic impacts before its official release, according to The Leadership.

“The NBMA is poised to effectively regulate modern biotechnology for the benefit of Nigerians and to allay the fears of members of the public who so wish to consume GMOs in Nigeria," the director-general said. "It should be clear that no one would be forced to use or consume GMOs in Nigeria. GMOs would be labelled. The agency bases its decision on science, taking into consideration national interest, socio-economic issues, human health and safety to the environment."

Egbeba also dismissed safety concerns of GMOs, saying that “the controversy surrounding the food and feeds are quite germane. However, suffice it to say that [to] date there is no reliable evidence that GM crops pose any health risk whatsoever. Recent FAO, World Health Organization (WHO) and other credible authorities attest to this. The public should therefore trust the agency’s decisions and avoid unscientific information and acts capable of causing public distrust and panic.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Is Big Food Ready For Vermont’s Historic GMO Labeling Law?

Brazil Won’t Buy U.S. GMO Corn, Highlights Worldwide Divide Over GMOs

First Commercial Crop of GMO Arctic Apples About to Hit Market

EU Fails to Approve ‘Technical Extension’ for Weed-Killer Glyphosate

Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds, like this inland silverside fish, can pass on health problems to future generations. Bill Stagnaro / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Brian Bienkowski

Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declares victory during the Labor Party Election Night Function at Auckland Town Hall on Oct. 17, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. Hannah Peters / Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister who has emerged as a leader on the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, has won a second term in office.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?

Read More Show Less
A woman holds a handful of vitamin C. VO IMAGES / Getty Images

By Laura Beil

Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."

Read More Show Less
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

Support Ecowatch