GMO Foods Can Kill, By Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku


In the Summer of 2008, I was part of a team that visited Germany on a 3-month training on Environmental journalism.  As part of our training, we were taken to a lab somewhere in Dresden I think, where innovative methods of food production were taking place. According to our resource persons, these ‘innovative’ methods favour ‘biosynthesis’ – a process where the genes of plants are tinkered with for optimum yield and stronger species of the food plants. Prior to this time that the scientists were looking at biosynthesis, the regular and normal and natural processes for plants to produce food was known as photosynthesis – where the plant grows to receive sunlight to enable it to produce a crop, a yield or what have you. The scientists told us at that lab that part of what led to the research was that regular farm and agricultural processes were no longer able to meet the food needs of a bludgeoning population – and especially considering the negative impact of climate change with its concomitant and debilitating effects of droughts, desert encroachment, irregular and inconsistent rainfall.  

So what really is biosynthesis and why should we be wary of the decision of the federal government of Nigeria to approve the distribution of genetically modified methods of food production? No hear me: I will not be writing hearsay here but what I saw and heard at that lab in Germany. To genetically modify a plant, the scientist first of all isolates the ‘unproductive’ gene of that plant that plant – and I use the word ‘unproductive’ advisedly, and in the definition of the scientist, it is that part of the plant that is not fecund or prolific or that it does not result in an abundance of yield. Next, he looks for the gene of another organism – a fly, rat, maggot, worm etcetera known to produce in millions. He replaces the ‘unproductive’ gene of the plant with this one from the fly, rat, maggot or worm, and proceeds to plant that seed.

We requested to see the fields where these genetically modified plants were planted, as far as my eyes could see, I saw acres and acres of wheat or millet. The question that arose immediately, and which we posed to the researchers was this: do you eat this genetically modified grain? According to the researcher, the bulk of the grains are transported to a massive silo where they are mixed with cow, pig or human waste to produce the gas that runs underground to many homes in German cities, and for domestic and industrial use. We again requested to see those sites where the grains are mixed with animal waste for the production of gas for domestic use. What I saw there was a refinery much, much better organized and equipped than the ones we have here in Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna.

What the scientist or researcher said next sobered me: some of it is packaged and sent to some countries (he shot a glance at me) as food aid. Any of it that finds its way in our supermarkets is properly labelled as such and our people are given the opportunity to make a choice whether to consume those grains or not.

National growth LS

Over the years, I have come to discover that pretty much of what we consume – eggs, cucumber, fish, chicken, garri, and most of our staple have been tinkered with and surreptitiously introduced to us. I give you the summary of my visit to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA in Ibadan where researches tried to cajole local farmers to accept ‘improved’ cassava stems. The farmers refused to accept those stems because they said garri from those cassava stems produce cassava that make people sick. Therefore, what the IITA and indeed most agricultural extension people do now is that within a bunch of 20 cassava stems they sell to the farmer at subsidized rated, about five of those stems are ‘improved’ varieties. I have planted that ‘improved’ variety and indeed I harvested a bumper yield. I found out though that the cassava was yellow after I soaked it in water, only for it to turn white again after it had dried. If I did not soak it in water and went ahead to process it as garri, what I would have gotten was instant yellow garri without having added the palm oil to make it yellow as the regular garri we are all used to.

I do not have any evidence or personal experience that these genetically modified foods are carcinogens. At some time though, I know that whenever I consume garri, it is either a sleeping tablet or an agent provocateur for sneezing and wheezing. However, the idea of tinkering with our food just so because we want them to yield better is no different from the artificialness that comes with sex change or an enhancement of the butt for greater sexual appeal.

Owing to the situation of food insecurity in Nigeria today, I can very well understand why the federal government hurriedly approved the consumption of GMOs in Nigeria. That decision though has the potential to spark a health epidemic of unknown proportions.  Mr President must do well in future to consult widely before taking these decisions that affect millions of Nigerians.

Etemiku is publisher of WADONOR, cultural voice of Nigeria.      

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