Tag Archives: GMO

Archives Reveal Why Africa Should not Depend on Monsanto for GMOs

New innovations in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry must pass through trials to find out the effectiveness and side effects. The innovation is given a Go, if the benefits way outweighs the side effects, if not it is taken back to the lab for more research.

While Food biotechnology may be the solution to food insecurity in Africa through GMOs, Africa must research, develop, produce the GMOs themselves. African nations must understand the innovation enough to be able to decide whether it should be adopted or modified to benefit  their citizens.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

The health and well-being of Africans cannot be left in the hands of profit-at-all-cost multinationals who may want to use Africans as guinea pigs for new innovations. As much as trials are a big part of research and development (R&D), African countries must carry it out themselves for themselves.

Read: Genome Editing – An Opportunity for Crop Improvement in Africa

It is time for African countries to build their own biotech industry, not only because the future will depend on it, but mainly because multinationals like  Monsanto cannot be trusted as  investigation has shown that the food biotech company based in the United State has endangered people’s health just for profit. The Guardian reported that Monsanto sold banned chemicals for years despite known health risks, archives reveal.

Read: Africa Must Produce its Own Technology

It was reported that Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive.

According to The Guardian, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are long-lived pollutants that were mass-produced by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977 for use as coolants and lubricators in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors.

By 1979, they had been completely banned in the US and elsewhere, after a weight of evidence linking them to health ailments that ranged from chloracne and Yusho (rice oil disease) to cancer, and to environmental harm.

Yet a decade earlier, one Monsanto pollution abatement plan in the archive from October 1969, singled out by Sherman, suggests that Monsanto was even then aware of the risks posed by PCB use.

More than 20,000 internal memos, minuted meetings, letters and other documents have been published in the new archive revealed, many for the first time.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

Most were obtained from legal discovery and access to documents requests digitized by the Poison Papers Project, which was launched by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy. Chiron Return contributed some documents to the library.

Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington – which is suing Monsanto for PCB clean-up costs potentially worth billions of dollars – said the archive contained damning evidence the state had previously been unaware of.

He told the Guardian: “If authentic, these records confirm that Monsanto knew that their PCBs were harmful and pervasive in the environment, and kept selling them in spite of that fact. They knew the dangers, but hid them from the public in order to profit.”

He told the Guardian: “More than 40 years ago, the former Monsanto voluntarily stopped production and sale of PCBs prior to any federal requirement to do so. At the time Monsanto manufactured PCBs, they were a legal and approved product used in many useful applications. Monsanto has no liability for pollution caused by those who used or discharged PCBs into the environment.”

Bio-Hacking: We Can Now Have Milk Without Cows and Eggs Without Chickens

“Bio-hacking” makes it possible to produce milk without cows and eggs without chickens. So-called synthetic biology could revolutionize food systems to more sustainably feed 7 billion,” says Hannes Sjoblad, a Swedish bio-hacker activist and Chief Disruption Officer at Epicenter in Stockholm.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

Bio-hacking applies technology in creative ways to change biological systems like cells, plants, animals – and Homo sapiens. Hannes Sjoblad believes bio-hacking can revolutionize food production systems to help sustainably feed a growing global population.

According to Hannes Sjoblad, “the current food production systems on the planet simply cannot sustain 7 billion inhabitants who would like to have the type of diet that you and I are used to. The current way of doing things is not sustainable. We are over-fishing, we are polluting, we’re cutting down rain-forests to feed beef cows – it’s absolutely not sustainable. And for me, the solution is not politics. The solution is not a citizen or a consumer activism. The solution must be technology.”

Image Credit: DW

He believes using digital biology technique to produce milk in-vitro for instance, and that “we can make the milk production process 10 to 100 times more energy-efficient. Entrepreneurs can modify the genes of yeast cells to make them produce milk. So we can now produce milk without cows.” There are now a lot of startups in this field that is called Digital Biology or Synthetic Biology.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

“Bio-hacking is a fairly new practice that could lead to major changes in our life. You could call it citizen or do-it-your-self biology. It takes place in small labs — mostly non-university — where all sorts of people get together to explore biology. That could mean figuring out how the DNA in plants affects their growth, or how to manipulate genes from another source to make a plant glow in the dark. It often is aimed at producing a product, like the chairs and building blocks that artist Philip Ross makes by feeding mushrooms a meal of sawdust or peanut shavings. It is experimenting on the cheap, usually without the benefit of a fancy university laboratory, and it often involves DNA and genes. If you don’t know enough biology to take part at first, you learn it along the way.” Explained Spencer Michels, a correspondent and producer in the San Francisco office of the PBS News Hour.

Source: DW, PBS

Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

Nigeria is still a developing country despite being blessed with abundant natural resources including a good climate which supports the growth of vegetation and rearing of animals.

Nigerian agriculture is still characterized by low yield per hectare, low production technology, outdated production techniques, low level of innovation adoption etc.

Nigeria has also witnessed progressive increase in importation of food in order to meet shortfalls in domestic food supply. As Nigeria continues to battle economic recession, which has hit the nation hard, the spirit of most citizens has dampened and they have lost hope in the government. Food security is the one thing Nigeria needs most now.

Food insecurity is still a major challenge in Nigeria. Both rural and urban poor people suffer from food insecurity and poor nutrition, caused in large measure by poverty and lack of nutritional balance in the diet they can afford. Food insecurity and malnutrition result in serious public health problems and loss of human potential.

To combat these challenges, food production and purchasing power both need to increase in Nigeria. Since land and water are the most limiting resources for food production, there is a need to increase yields on the available land and biotechnology offers solution to this.

Biotechnology tools are presently used to tackle the problems of global food insecurity and agricultural biotechnology offers opportunities in developing countries like Nigeria.

Many potential biotechnologies are available, these include: Traditional Plant Breeding, Tissue culture and micro propagation, Molecular breeding or Marker assisted selection, Genetically Modified crops, and recently Genome-editing for crops.

Read: Genome Editing – An Opportunity for Crop Improvement in Africa

These techniques can help address the problems of food insecurity by increasing per seed yield of some of our crops, multiplying the planting materials for farmers, increasing the area of land under cultivation, enhancing nutritional qualities of some of our crops and reducing dependence on agrochemicals.

Genetically Modified crops have been developed and rapidly disseminated since the early 1990s. GM crops for virus resistance, insect/pest resistance and delayed ripening are good examples of crop improvement strategies that are beneficial.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

Insect–resistant plant varieties using the ᵟendotoxin of Bacillus thuringensis have been produced for several plant species like tomato, tobacco, potato, cotton, maize sugarcane and rice, of these, maize, cotton is already commercialized.

This technology can be adapted to our local crops to help increase productivity. This is important because adapting biotechnology to local or indigenous crops often have deep social or religious meaning to culture and simply replacing local crops with another crop to increase productivity may potentially destroy local cultural traditions.

Local farmers in Nigeria are more likely to embrace a known crop with genetic modification than a foreign crop. Also, our local varieties of wheat can also be genetically modified or improved to reduce wheat importation and save foreign exchange.

Nigeria is presently the highest importer of wheat and rice on the African continent. Tissue culture and micro-propagation can also be used to assist farmers obtain quality, disease free and readily available planting materials for crops like banana, plantain, pineapple, citrus, yam, cassava. Small scale farmers in rural communities can benefit from this.

In addition, farmers and researchers/scientists in agricultural biotechnology can collaborate, so that research results from the laboratories can reach farmers. Research can also be targeted and tied to meet the specific needs of rural farmers; this will help increase food /agricultural productivity and economic empowerment.

Read: Bio-Hacking: We Can Now Have Milk Without Cows and Eggs Without Chickens

In spite of the tremendous advances in biotechnology, public fear persists, especially the controversies on the acceptance of GM crops. These issues may prevent these innovations from having the impact they promise.

Stakeholders of biotechnology in Nigeria must substantially increase its efforts to educate and engage the public to ensure that biotechnology truly lives up to its potential to solve our food insecurity challenges. Biotechnology for food security should be our priority.