Daily Independent  

Consumers in Nigeria and the entire West African sub region may begin experiencing the health hazards associated with biotech products if the result of a laboratory test of rice samples from the countries are anything to go by, participants at a one-day public awareness forum on "Biosafety Issues and Experience Sharing" in Benin City, have warned.
Of the 47 samples of 17 brands of rice on the market shelf in the three countries that were used for the test, it was confirmed that there was a preponderance of GMO varieties; Liberty Link Rice 62 (LLRICE62) and LLRICE601 in two.
Six of the eight brands of rice samples from Nigeria tested positive to the GM-strain while it was found in one out of three from Ghana. All the brands tested in Sierra Leone tested negative however, there are fears that the level of illegal rice imports in the sub region may result in an infiltration of the contaminated brands in that country.


LLRICE601 had earlier been confirmed in rice samples from Sierra Leone and Ghana sent to an independent laboratory in the United States for testing in October 2006, following the discovery that the GM product, manufactured by Bayer had contaminated food chains in Europe and Japan that same year.
These facts came to light at the public awareness forum organised by Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) in Benin City on January 22, 2008, in conjunction with several civil society groups, farmers bodies, market women, representatives of community associations, and media practitioners among others.
The event was targeted at raising public awareness and consciousness about biosafety issues and quality of foods and food products in Nigeria.
Among other things, participants held strongly that: GMO, a product driven by profit-driven biotech industries, is not the answer to the food security problem in Africa, but policies to achieve improved farming practices, development of rural infrastructure and effective distribution networks for agricultural products.
They also agreed that local farmers would be at the mercy of transnational seed companies and the potential health and environmental hazards associated with biotech products and non –availability of evidence-based science to allay fears
There was an intensified effort by multinational corporations towards the introduction of GM products in Nigeria despite the lack of an existing legal, administrative and infrastructural framework to regulate the products and the intense pressure and push by biotech industry and donor agencies such as USAID, AGRA, and the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation on African governments.
Nigeria is mandated by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to put in place effective biosafety laws.
Among others, they recommended that the Federal Government to put in place strict biosafety laws using the African Model as the minimum standard to be applied
Immediate recall from Nigeria all long grain rice imported from the United states unless proven not be contaminated by LLRice601, Suspension of rice importation from the United States unless they are accompanied by a valid GM-free certificate, the Nigeria government must initiate pro-active programmes to promote local rice variety and reduce import dependency, and that Since the problems of Africa is not the availability of food but accessibility, the government and other relevant agencies should develop effective instruments to increase accessibility to food.

Charles Okonji - Senior Correspondent

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