CAPPA – Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa

Food Justice: Experts Reject GMOs, Back SSB Tax

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pose significant health, environmental, and economic risks, while an improved tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) will promote human rights and food justice, experts have said.

They spoke on Monday in Lagos at a capacity-building programme organised by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), themed: “Human Rights, Food Justice and Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB).”

The event featured nutrition and food experts, environmental, social and health activists, youth groups and other stakeholders from across the country, who urged the government to increase the SSB tax and spend the improved income on strengthening the health sector.

Keynote speaker and Director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Dr. Nnimmo Bassey raised the alarm about Nigeria’s food system, warning that the increasing presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) poses significant risks to human health, the environment, and the economy.

Dr. Nnimmo Bassey

He argued that GMOs had been linked to cancers, diseases, allergies, and several health challenges because, of among others, their dependency on toxic pesticides and the destruction of biodiversity and nutritional diversity.

Bassey maintained GMOs are not the solution to food shortage in Nigeria, saying 70 per cent of the food eaten in the world is produced by small-scale farmers, not industrial farmers.

The foremost environmentalist urged the government to invest in supporting small-scale farmers, build rural infrastructure, and sustainable systems of storage and processing of local foods and empower farmers so they can boost their income.

He noted that access to safe and wholesome food is a fundamental human right, yet Nigerians are being exposed to GMOs without their knowledge or consent.

He stated that over 20 GMO varieties have been approved in Nigeria, with some already in circulation, and many more imported as finished products.

Bassey called for a complete overhaul of Nigeria’s biosafety law, citing its inadequacy in protecting Nigerians and the environment.

He added: “Concerns have emerged over the environmental and health impacts of GMOs, their impact on traditional farming methods, and issues around seed patents and others.

“Governments in developing nations are responding to those concerns in a variety of ways with some banning GMOs outright, some embracing the technology, and others attempting to find a balance between the concerns and needs of all sides.

“It is totally unacceptable that in the name of food sufficiency, the country is exposing its citizens to products of risky technologies without adequate, independent and/or long-term assessment of their impacts on human and environmental health.”

CAPPA’s Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi lamented the chemicalisation of foods, saying it is a health disaster.

Akinbode Oluwafemi

“When you throw open our food system to GMOs, you are affecting the local communities, and as well, the community livelihoods as a whole.

“It’s disheartening that the government palliatives, rather than being channelled to local farmers, are diverted. It’s time for Nigeria to have a rethink in terms of the kind of developmental process we want to follow, particularly looking at our food chain, focusing on local food production.”

Oluwafemi also expressed concern about Nigeria’s NCDs burden, saying an increased SSB Tax is a globally proven useful tool to curb the rise.

He said: “Of this scary picture, we are particularly concerned about the growing rate of non-communicable diseases in Nigeria. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have caught the attention of the global health community because they are responsible for about 41 million deaths yearly, equivalent to 71 per cent of all deaths globally.

“In Nigeria, nearly 30% of annual deaths are due to NCDs, such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart diseases, stroke, cancer, and oral health diseases, among a long list.

“In understanding this public health challenge, scientific studies and evidence have increasingly identified and singled out the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) as a critical risk driver of NCDs and obesity, which is a pre-disposing health condition for NCDs.”

The CAPPA boss added: “To mitigate NCDs the consumption of these beverages and unhealthy diets ought to be reduced. SSBs include but are not limited to, carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, sweetened sports drinks, or any artificial sugar-sweetened beverages.

“In this vein, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the effective taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) as part of its global action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).”

Oluwafemi lamented that despite the significance of the SSB tax intervention, it has yet to achieve the desired impact.

He also noted that Nigerians face increasingly poor food choices.

Oluwafemi said: “In particular, the food industry and big corporations manipulate consumers to embrace unhealthy diets, bombarding us with marketing that promotes processed foods high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

On his part, a Public Health Specialist at the University College Hospital (UCH), University of Ibadan (UI), Dr Francis Fagbule condemned the secrecy around GMOs, noting that consumers need an informed decision on what they want to eat.

“How many times do you go to the market and see a product that is labelled to be a GMO product? How much of it is being regulated in our country? There is a lot that needs to be done.

“The path of justice is that I have autonomy over my decision. If I want to eat natural food, I know that this is natural food and those that want to take GMO are free to. It should be labelled clearly.

“There’s a lot to eat without genetic engineering and I think people need to be cautious.”

Other speakers at the event included a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) Fidelis Obaniyi; Project Officer, CAPPA Opeyemi Ibitoye; and food scientist and CAPPA programme officer, Sodium Reduction Bukola Olukemi Odele.

Source: NigerianCurrent

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