Environment group cries out over genetically modified rice

Could Bayer Cropscience be using Africa as a guinea pig for it's GM rice?By Ben Ezeamalu November 11 2009

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has said that the legal action instituted by farmers in the United States against Bayer CropScience AG confirms the validity of the tests it carried out on rice samples in Nigeria and other West African countries at the same period which showed contamination.

The suit

In the suit, over 1,000 U.S. farmers are accusing the Germany-based Bayer AG for allegedly contaminating their farms with Genetically Modified (GM) rice seeds in 2006.

Attorneys for both parties made their opening statements to a nine-person jury on November 4 while a second trial will start in January, involving farmers from Arkansas and Mississippi who claimed that exports for their crops were reduced when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced, in 2006, that trace amounts of Bayer’s GM rice had been found in US long-grain stocks.

In a reaction to the development, the non-governmental organisation said the legal action in the U.S. shows the extent the biotechnology industry and its partners will go to “undermine food supplies” to unsuspecting consumers especially in Africa where there are weak bio-safety laws.

Call for action

“While we hail the suits, it is extremely disheartening that these startling revelations have not compelled the Nigerian government to acknowledge the result of the Nigerian tests or put in place effective legal, administrative and infrastructural framework to check the illegal dumping of unwholesome foods in the country,” said Nnimmo Bassey, the executive director of ERA/FoEN.

Mr. Bassey said that the unauthorised distribution of GMO seeds in any guise voids the precautionary principle and that the biotech industry and transnational agri-businesses have over the years pushed GMO to Africa in the guise of food aid while hiding under the cover of the World Food Programme (WFP), funded majorly by the U.S.

In 2006, there were reports that LL Rice 601, a strain of long rice that has been genetically modified so that it is resistant to herbicide, had contaminated food supplies in Europe and Japan. Consequently, the organisation embarked on monitoring rice supplies in West Africa, a region that imports most of the rice destined to Africa.

It collected samples from market shelves in Nigeria, Ghana, and Sierra Leone; and tested in a laboratory. Results showed that LL Rice 601, the same variety that contaminated the U.S. farms, was in circulation in the countries sampled.

“It is now evident that the U.S. and other GMO-producing countries do not want GMO on their soil but will do everything to push it down to Africa,” said Mr. Bassey.

Mr. Bassey reiterated his organisation’s earlier demand for a prohibition of all rice imports from the U.S. unless such imports are certified and confirmed GM-free.

“Nigerians demand that the Federal Government as a matter of urgency put in place strict bio-safety laws using the African Model as the minimum standard to be applied. Anything short of this will undermine our food sovereignty and the health of Nigerians,” he said.

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