In recent time, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Genetically Engineered (GE) food substances were approved to be grown in Nigeria and the issue continues to generate debate for and against in many quarters. For those that are not agriculturally or scientifically biased; GMO means, those food substances that have been genetically altered or in other words, those whose genetic materials have been altered from its naturally occurring state. In another concept, genes from other sources have been introduced into these food substances and for various reasons such as an increase in quantity, size, growth rate, color /pigment, taste, among others.
In this regard, the issue of GMOs has been a very controversial one since its onset in the USA, sometime in 1994 and now that it is approved in Nigeria, it is time to be more aware of what it is and how it may affect us. There have been several groups especially from the academia, opposing it and several debates on the safety of GMO food substances continues to trend.
Checks at the biotechnology companies that are responsible for manufacturing these genetically engineered foods claiming that it will help with increasing supply of food which will help eradicate hunger, especially in countries such as Nigeria. That sounds splendid, but still, reservations expressed by some experts advert for concern about the health implications these GMO foods posed on our health.
Currently, GMO foods comprise about 55%-70% of the processed foods in the supermarkets/shopping malls. Most of the imported food items traded in Nigeria’s supermarkets/shopping malls are genetically modified. Other countries such as England, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan, and Newzealand just to name a few are against the introduction of GMO foods into their country. Why then should Nigerians be exposed to these GMO foods? It’s time to question the genuineness or otherwise of what we consume on daily basis.
Malam Gidado, an assistant director with the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) said that no research had proven that GMO food substances had any adverse effects on human health or the environment. This may be true but long term or residual effects are still scarce and hardly documented. This is because probably, not many people would offer themselves as samples to be used as Guinea pigs and be fed with these GMO foods that have been termed carcinogenic and thus harmful.
However, various researches have been carried out on animals and the health implications of GMO foods on these animals are not pleasant at all. These health risks include infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, problematic insulin regulation, stomach problems, reduction in digestive enzymes, liver toxicity, allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, cancer etc. Bellow are but a few wards on these health issues:
i- Infertility: Studies done on animals showed that more than half of the babies of GMO-fed mother rats died within 3 weeks. Also, the longer the mice were fed GMO foods, the less babies they had and the smaller the babies were. Also, GMO-fed rats had the uterus and ovary changes, and by the 3rd generation, they were infertile and barren. In addition, about two (2) dozens of US farms reported that GMO-fed pigs or cows developed sterility and could not reproduce. All these suggest infertility or reduced fertility and also a high risk of birth defects. Against this, one contemplates and juxtaposes its impact on humans.
ii- Cancer: In March 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified Glycophosphate as carcinogenic. Glycophosphate is a toxin that is greatly used in GMO foods and has been linked to many ailments such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, Autism, among others. It has also been known to be linked to breast-cancer and prostate-cancer. Also, Insulin Growth Factor (IGF) increases in dairy products from cows fed with GMO foods. Recent studies have shown that IGF-1 is an important factor in the growth of breast, prostate and colon cancers. Once again, this calls to ponder on why the incidence of human cancer is on the increase.
iii- Liver Toxicity: The liver is one of the important organs in the human body and is responsible for detoxification. Rats that were given GMO potatoes showed damaged livers. When these rats were switched to non-GMO foods, their liver over time recovered back to its normal status. At this juncture, it could be concluded that GMO food substances play a part in damaging the human liver.
iv- Antibiotic Resistance: GMO foods have the ability to make certain bacteria resistant to antibiotics which will ultimately result in the increase and spread of infections. For instance, GMO/GE maize plant from Novartis (a global healthcare company based in Switzerland) includes an ampicillin resistant gene and if this gene moves from the corn into bacteria, it will make ampicillin an ineffective drug in fighting bacterial infections.
v- Increased Cases of Cancer: The increase of cancerous diseases in humans, strange illnesses and infertility is alarming and everyone keeps wondering why. Perhaps one shouldn’t have to look too far to find a probable cause but only have to take another look at what type of food he or she consumes. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has warned that GMO foods are inherently unsafe and have asked all doctors to advise their patients to avoid GMO foods.
Having painted the GMO/GE food substances in this image, then it is incumbent upon us to answer: what do we need to do to protect ourselves?
Firstly, we all have to be extra vigilant about the foods we are buying. Most GMO foods are not labelled “GMO” so you have to make sure items you buy are 100% organic. You can also spread awareness about these GMO foods by discussing it with your family and friends. Also, the schools should be aware of what kinds of snacks they are feeding children.
Furthermore, parents have to make their children’s snacks from home. Also, since the Government has approved these GMO foods in Nigeria, Government agencies such as National Agency for Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) should also encourage labeling of these GMO foods and allow the general public to make the choice of whether to buy it or not.
In conclusion, whenever food is altered from its original DNA by inserting foreign genes, it is always a gamble. One cannot predict all its consequences. Even though these companies claim that these foods have some advantages, the associated health risks that come with the foods make them harmful and dangerous, especially with long term exposure and attendant residual effects. In addition, one contemplates on Nigeria’s capability to effectively monitor and manage the health implications that come with long term consumption of Genetically Modified Food substances.