On Thursday 4 August 2022, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) hosted a workshop with judicial officials, lawyers and representatives of the Ministry of Justice which examined issues on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and biosafety in Nigeria. A major objective of this workshop was to establish the need for urgent judiciary action-steps towards assuring justice in our food system and our environment.
Presentations and discussions specifically considered the health, environmental, economic, cultural and political implications of GMOs. Also, issues on existing legislation and regulation on GMOs were extensively discussed. Participants, in group discussions highlighted key recommendations for promoting biosafety and food justice in Nigeria.
Speakers at this event included: Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF; Ifeanyi Casmir, a molecular and immunodiagnostic scientist (University of Abuja); Chima Williams, Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria; and Ifeanyi Nwankwere, a lawyer and human rights advocate.
Observations at this workshop included that:
- There is no global/national consensus on the safety of GMOs. There is need for more extensive research on the subject.
- Nigeria has a peculiar ecological and socio-economic system and thus interventions/solutions to food or agricultural challenges must be such that align with our realities.
- There is need for a sound regulatory system on GMOs.
- The fact that other nations are using the GM technology should not be the basis for its wholesale adoption in Nigeria.
- There is need for more awareness creation and knowledge sharing, especially among farmers, journalists, decision makers etc. on the implications of adoption of GMOs.
Recommendations from the workshop include:
- The National Biosafety Management Agency Act as amended in 2019 should be urgently reviewed to close existing gaps and establish measures for strict implementation
- Nigeria should hold the brakes on GMOs until we can ascertain (through rigorous independent and long-term testing) the safety of GM products and until the right to choice can be enforced.
- Provisions in the NBMA Act that are contrary to the precautionary principle and pro industry should be challenged in court.
- Sensitization programmes on the dangers of GMOs and biosafety should be extended to the grassroots and information should be conveyed in local languages.
- Farmers should be sensitized/trained on agroecology practices that ensure optimum productivity of food and that nourish ecosystems in the process.
- There should be more youth engagement on GMOs and their implications
- Government should ensure coherence among agencies concerned with regulation of food e.g NBMA, NAFDAC, FCCPC, SON
- The government should ban all harmful pesticides and promote appropriate biological pest control measures
- The government should ensure that biosafety, biosecurity, food security and food sovereignty are introduced and adequately covered in school curriculums.
- HOMEF should engage more with judges to foster understanding on GMOs and Biosafety to promote justice in our food system
- The government should strengthen surveillance of our borders against GM products.
Participants applauded HOMEF for organising the workshop and largely acknowledged its relevance. The need for continued collaborations was very much emphasised in order to promote knowledge and action to secure biosafety