The Challenges Of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) In Nigeria By Tomiwa Ilori
Food is survival. Survival is the foundation upon which other human sustenance is based and actualized. Science through technology has ensured a gradual growth in making life easier in this regard. Constant researches has afforded for man to compete favourably with his environment and optimize his chances in his natural habitat. However, the artificial tendencies of technology have generated a lot of debates as to its purpose of sustaining a natural environment. Due to competition and the growing need to keep up with the space we have set in motions as humans, we make to set technology ahead of us to prepare a chance at survival albeit nature-friendly or not. The field of biotechnology in this regard has sought to form a meeting point between biological characteristics in nature and the influence of technology. Biotechnology may be referred to as when nature in its need for sustenance and growth seeks to utilize the optimality of technology to achieve a more productive purpose. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) is a product of such relationships between biology and technology.
Basically, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) GMO is a genetically (DNA) altered organism which has moved from its natural state to more synthetic and artificial state. The process is referred to as “genetic engineering.” This is done in order to be able to adapt such organisms to cope with a more pressing demand of consumption from various areas in which GMO is always utilized. GMO is primarily about altering an organism which would have otherwise grown naturally to grow with such artificialness required to afford higher productivity. GMO is used to generate genetically modified plants which in turn are used to produce food crops. The result of this is that GMO is used to generate food crops that are finally processed for consumption for the end user which is the consumer of such product.
The major debate in favour of GMO is that it is faster and is effective in terms of high yield and productivity. This literally means huge supply to meet demands which necessarily allows for low prices and more consumption. While debates are detailed as to the propriety of GMO for human consumption, the role of the chemical industry has be taken into consideration so as to weed out the actual negative impacts the industry will generate on agriculture.
Considering the wealth of debates for and against GMO in food production and consumption, more focus is being generated of its impact on agriculture than any other field. Agriculture is the oldest form of profession aside hunting. It has proved a huge source of sustenance of mankind. Man has known how to manage his produce to match his consumption right from time immemorial. While not putting away the importance of technology in fast tracking agricultural production, it must be ensured that a more drastic problem is not dragged along as a result of the huge probability of artificialness of technology. It has been argued that genetically altered organisms tend to create a huge chance of reactivity in human digestive tracts due to the incompatibility of chemicals contained in altered organisms and the human body. Technology in this regard was sought to aid the improvement of agriculture and not impede it for possible gains or whatever political interests that may masquerade as a result of the economic viability of GMO in the world. In a bid not to disregard the importance of which GMO was originally facilitated, actual attention must be paid to the overall effects of GMO holistically to afford for or not an objective establishment of GMO as an agricultural policy in Nigeria.
One of the major arguments against GMO is its food allergy. Allergies occur when the body reacts to a particular ingestion or chemical content of ingestion. This means that the body can react to food normally as the case may be. But in GMO the effect and chances are increased as vitro protein when in GMO causes for increased rate of reactivity in the body. The basic issue here is a fraction of naturalness of a food crop been reduced to enhance productivity but ends up being harmful to the human body. This purpose of food sustenance is defeated in itself.
Also there is the issue of toxicity and low nutritional value. It is superficial common place reasoning that whatever comes natural as edible even without scratching deeper into nutritional expertise has more nutrients value than any other variety. What this necessarily translates to is the dangling of low prices in the face of a hungry society in exchange for nutritional worth in the overall. This draws out the overarching dangers inherent in GMO and its potentiality for food crops and agriculture in general.
So also, there has been ample evidence generated by studies as to the bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. The resistance in these bacteria is mostly found in GMO. This means that GMO are carriers of bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics and are dangerous to the human health. Even though traditionally processed foods are not entirely free from health risks, it is important to note that the risks are minimal compared to that of GMO.
The case against GMO has strengthened steadily over the last few years. The criticism are that genetic engineering disrupts the precise sequence of food’s genetic code and disturbs functions of neighbouring genes, which gives rise to potentially toxic or allergenic molecules or even alter the nutritional value of food produced. For example, the Bt toxin used in GMO corn, for example was recently detected in the blood of pregnant women and their babies, with possibly harmful consequences.
In Japan, there is a staunch opposition to GMO and none is being planted in the country even though Monsanto, who is a world giant in the area of GMO has made several inroads into Japan some of which have yielded just recently. In New-Zealand however, no GMO is allowed to be planted in the country. Currently, in Germany, there is a ban on GMO Maize. In Ireland, all GM crops were banned for cultivation in 2009and there is a voluntary labelling system for foods containing GM food to be identified as such. In France Monsanto’s MON810 GM corn had been approved but its cultivation was forbidden in 2008. There is widespread public mistrust of GMO that has been successful in keeping GM crops out of the country.
In Nigeria, the BioSafety Bill is being engineered to ensure that GMO is allowed in Nigeria. Notwithstanding the benefits of GMO in a country like Nigeria and at a time when Agriculture is being touted to take over Oil and Gas as the main source of generating income in the country, the rush to accommodate GMO must be treated with utmost caution. As earlier stated, mortality rate in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world and GMO crops have huge tendencies to increase this due to toxins that are not compatible with the health of pregnant women.
While GMO might guarantee fast spate of agricultural production in the country, this might also mean creating a road to dysfunctional hospitals in the country which already have low working capacities. What this will mean is causing a lot of pressure on the available medical infrastructure which might see to the eventual collapse of such facilities due to challenges posed by GMO food crops. Even though this is a remote consequence of GMO, it is still on the chain of effects.
Considering the economic viability of GMO, the implication of having a less functional population due to low nutritional level of food crops will ultimately translate to a counterproductive measure. The debate over GMO are too overwhelming which currently ranges from Intellectual Property rights and rights of farmers to plant whatever they chose to and also their rights to truthful information about GMO for the Nigerian government to dive headfirst into the GMO program. Taking into account of its health implications and the resultant effects of GMO in Nigeria, proper sensitization should and must be generated by stakeholders in order to reach a more objective view on GMO.
Agriculture has always been the big brother of the Nigerian economy even when Oil overtook it and almost relegated it to the background. The central feature of the agricultural sector is the life line of any country that wishes to survive. Current facts are replete with controversial issues as to GMO. This is enough for the Nigerian government to pause and think to reflect on the long term results of GMO. The interest of the Nigerian government in respect of GMO as a policy in the opinion of this writer are hasty and hazy. As it stands, with the barrage of evidence present in the world at large, the policy on GMO must be generated through the choice of the people and not through a high-standing administrative directive. It is important that the people are carried along and properly educated on the GMO policy as the mistrust against GMO is gathering and if care is not taken the policy will be short changed due to the inherent health implication GMO portends.
The writer tweets @tomiwa_ilori
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