A little over a year ago, GMO (genetically modified organisms) or GE (genetically engineered) foods were approved to be grown in Nigeria and the issue continues to generate debate in many quarters. For those that don’t know what GMO means, these are foods that have been genetically modified meaning that the genetic material of the food has been altered from its naturally occurring state. In other words, genes from other sources have been introduced into these foods and this is done for various reasons.
The topic of GMOs have been a very controversial one since its introduction in the USA 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 opposing it and several debates on the safety of GMO foods.
The bio-technology companies that are responsible for manufacturing these genetically engineered foods claim that it will help with increased supply of food which will help eradicate hunger, especially in countries such as Nigeria. That sounds all lovely and good, but still, I personally am highly concerned about the health implications these GMO foods have on our health, and you should be too.
Currently, GMO foods comprise about 55%-70% of the processed foods in the supermarkets. Most of the imported food items we buy from our supermarkets here in Nigeria are genetically modified. Other countries such as England, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan, New Zealand just to name a few are against the introduction of GMO foods into their country. Why then should we as Nigerians be exposed to these GMO foods? It’s time to pay more attention to what you put inside of your body.
Ms. Gidado, an assistant director with the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) said that no research had proven that GMO foods had any adverse effects on human health and the environment. This may be true but long term effects are still scarce and hardly documented probably because not many people I know would offer themselves up to be used as Guinea pigs and be fed with these GMO foods that have been termed carcinogenic and thus harmful. However, various studies have been done on animals and the health implications of GM 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. Let me elaborate on a few of these health issues.
Infertility: Studies done on animals showed that more than half of the babies of GM-fed mother rats died within 3 weeks. Also, the longer the mice were fed GM foods, the less babies they had and the smaller the babies were. Also, GM fed rats had uterus and ovary changes, and by the 3rd generation, they were unable to have babies. In addition, about 2 dozen US farms reported that GE-fed pigs or cows developed sterility and could not reproduce. All these suggests infertility or reduced fertility and also a high risk of birth defects. And we wonder why infertility rates are increasing daily in humans.
Cancer: In March 2015, 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 illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, Autism. It has also been known to be linked to breast cancer and prostate cancer. Also IGF (Insulin Growth Factor) is increased in dairy products from cows fed with GE foods. Recent studies show that IGF-1 is an important factor in the growth of breast, prostate, colon cancers. Once again, we wonder why the incidence of cancer is increasing.
Liver toxicity: The liver is one of the important organs in the human body and is responsible for detoxification. Rats that were given GM potatoes showed damaged livers. When these rats were switched to non-GM foods, their liver over time went back to normal. I think it is safe to conclude that GM foods play a part in damaging the liver.
Antibiotic resistance: GE foods have the ability to make certain bacteria to be resistant to antibiotics which will ultimately result in the increase and spread of infections. For example, GE maize plant from Novartis 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.
The increase of cancer in humans, strange illnesses and infertility is alarming and everyone keeps wondering why. Perhaps we don’t have to look too far to find a probable cause, we only have to take another look at what types of foods we are putting into our bodies.
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 GM foods.
What do we need to do to protect ourselves? Firstly, we all have to be extra vigilant about the foods you 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 this GMO foods by discussing it with your family and friends. Also, the schools should be aware of what kinds of snacks they are feeding our children.
Better yet, parents are advised to make the children’s snacks from home. Also, since the government has approved these GM foods in Nigeria, the government should also encourage labeling of these GM foods and allow the general public to make the choice of whether to buy it or not.
In conclusion, whenever we alter a food’s original DNA by inserting foreign genes, it is always a gamble. You can’t 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. In addition, I don’t think Nigeria is well equipped to effectively monitor and manage the health implications that come with long term consumption of genetically modified foods.
Source: Guardian Newspaper.