Nigerian Journalists Trained on GMO, Bio-safety Reporting

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About 20 journalists were on Tuesday in Abuja trained on how to report issues surrounding Bio-safety and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). The one-day workshop was organised by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), a nongovernmental organisation at the forefront of the campaign against the application, approval and commercialisation of GM foods in Nigeria.

According to the organisers, the training became necessary because bio-safety and environmental issues are being “under-reported” in the country. “Many things happen in the environment and they are being overlooked. We always resort to fire brigade approach,” HOMEF director, Nnimmo Bassey, said at the event.

“Reporters need to follow up on what is really happening? What are the problems? Which approvals are granted? They need to invest more time to investigate bio-safety issues and that is why we are here to enhance their knowledge on these issues.” Biosafety is the prevention of large-scale loss of biological integrity, focusing both on ecology and human health.

During the training, journalists underwent sessions on implications of not giving room to public participation in permitting processes of GMOs in Nigeria. The facilitator, Tatfeng Mirabeau, decried the ‘speedy’ approvals granted to GM products in Nigeria. Nigeria officially signed the Biosafety Bill into law in 2015, making it eligible to join the league of nations that are already using genetic engineering (GE), also called genetic modification (GM), to boost food production.

The National Biotechnology Management Agency (NBMA) regulates the technology. Chief among the criticisms levelled against the agency is that it does not ‘consider’ opinions of Nigerians before granting approval to GM products. NBMA had, in 2016, issued two permits for the Commercial Release and Placing on Market of GM cotton, and the confined field trial of maize, to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited.

This move came despite concerted efforts of many Nigerians (comprising 100 groups of farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local farmers) to prevent the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton and maize into Nigeria’s foods and farming system.

In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, NBMA director, Rufus Ebegba, explained how his agency handles opinions of Nigerians on GMOs.

“Ninety per cent of small-scale farmers do not know anything about GMOs and yet they grant approvals despite several objections,” Mr Mirabeau said.

Mr Bassey further accused the NBMA of approving “nearly every application brought to it without due consideration of the impact of proposed activities or of the concerns raised by the public.

“A glaring case of concern is the approval of importation of GM maize by WACOT Ltd just a few weeks ago after the company had tried to smuggle the crops in. The law was blatantly disregarded in this case as it requires that a minimum of 270 days be given before any application is approved to allow for proper impact assessments,” he noted. There has been a protracted debate over the application of genetically modified crops into the food system of the country.

These debates have birthed two groups, Pro-GMO and Anti-GMO. The former is for while the latter is against the application. During the interactive sessions, journalists stressed the need for a forum where both groups can sit on a roundtable to debate issues surrounding GMO and biosafety. They also recommended that the group take the campaign to the rural areas or organise forums for small-scale farmers so as to increase awareness on GM products.

The journalists were later divided into working groups were various issues on biosafety where discussed and solutions proffered.

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