• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Fears over GMO foods- true or false?

FG deepens collaboration on safety of genetically modified organisms

“The more information I have absorbed about the GMO seeds debate, the more alarmed I have become.

“I believe that every Nigerian with knowledge in the field, owes a sacred duty to speak truthfully, altruistically and urgently on the subject”

– Barr. Dele Farotimi (Lawyer and Human Rights activist).

Put simply, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) as they are popularly called are made by using genetic engineering techniques, to have genes added to the chosen seeds to improve on qualities such as growth, nutritional values, sustainability, pest resistance and ease of farming.

From the broad historical perspective, the first GMO seed introduced was that of tomato, tagged Flavr Savr tomato (Calgene, USA) that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1994. It was made available for sale after studies evaluated proved it to be safe for human consumption, similar to traditionally bred tomatoes.

The fears being raised by the people over the decision by the President Ahmed Tinubu-led administration to introduce GMO “Tela Maize” into the country is quite understandable, as it has transpired in some other countries. More so, there is hunger in the land and desperation could lead to wrong food choices. Though the fear of allergic reaction by the consumers has been raised in some other countries scientific researches have so far proved otherwise.

In fact, according to an expert in the field,Dr. Peter Goldsbrough, Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology at Purdue University, USA, there is so far no available data to prove that GMO foods are bad or harmful for human consumption. He insists that GMOs have undergone more detailed evaluation than other group of plants.

This position has been confirmed by the www.nytimes.com website which states that: “In the decades since the first GMO reached the market, no adverse health effects among consumers have been found.”

What makes them different from other plants is because of the addition of one or two genes that produce new proteins. But their origin and functions are well understood. And unknown to many people selective breeding process takes generations to materialize. The pertinent question to ask at this point, is to know the advantages of GMOs.

Amongst these are the protection against the pests and insects, with regards to the Bt gene. There are fewer pesticides. For instance, a 2020 study on GMO techniques showed that they reduced global chemical pesticides by 8.3%. They also reduced the emission of greenhouse gases and farmers do not need to spray the plants with insecticides.

Similarly, there is increase in nutritional values as GMO rice is rich in beta-carotene. That explains why golden rice is provided in areas where blindness is pronounced because of the low level of Vitamin A in their local diets. There is also enhanced flavour and improved appearance as shown in the non-browning apple. Besides all these attractive qualities, GMO foods are easier and less costly for the farmers to grow.

It is therefore, understandable why over 90 % GMO seeds of maize, cotton and soybeans are planted in the United States according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the International Service for Acquisition of Agri- Biotechnology Application (ISAAA) there are at least 33 GMO food crops adopted across the globe.

The USDA along with the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) has ranked Nigeria second to South Africa in the adoption and growing of similar seeds. Good enough, Tela Maize has exhibited the qualities of insect resistance, drought tolerance and the boosting of farm yield.

What all these mean therefore, is that the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has done no wrong whatsoever in approving the introduction of four Tela Maize varieties into the country. And the federal government has taken a bold step forward for releasing such in January 2024 for commercial farming.

It is therefore, no longer a matter of surprise that Nigeria has been listed among top six African countries leading the way in biotech crop adoption. What is needed is sustained public awareness, training and retraining of farmers as well as providing financial support to boost food security in Nigeria.