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Court Decides on GMO Case: HOMEF and CSOs Pledge to Fight on!

 15 August 2018

The Federal High Court of Justice, sitting in Abuja on the 15th August, struck out the Plaintiffs suit the GMO case with suit No: FHC/ABJ/C5/846/2017 due to technicalities. The Judge in delivering his judgment said that it was his opinion that although the plaintiffs have a Cause of Action in this matter, the court’s hands were tied due to one of the objections raised by the defendants - that the suit was statute barred.  The suit was brought a year after the permits had been issued.  According to the Judge it was a contravention of the provisions of the Public Officers Act, which states that any action instituted against a public officer as regards his/her discharge of duties must be instituted within three months, after the said breach occurred. The case was struck out not for lack of merit or lack cause of action (the court did establish a Cause of Action) but because of technicalities.

Reacting to this, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), in a statement made available to newsmen expressed great displeasure as they consider this a fall back on efforts to preserve the nation’s food system from being overturned by the agricultural biotech industry.

The registered Trustees of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and sixteen  other Civil Society Organisations in September 2017 filed the lawsuit against the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the Hon. Minister of Environment, Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Hon. Minister of Agriculture, the Attorney General of the Federation and National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) over permits granted.

In the summons which was taken out by Ifeanyi Nwankwere of Basilea Juris Associates, the plaintiffs insisted that 1st defendant did not comply with the provisions of the National Biosafety Management Agency Act in granting the permits to the 3rd and 4th defendants. The CSOs asserted that the procedure and issuance of the permits flouts and threatens the fundamental human rights of the people as enshrined in section 33, 34, 36 and 39 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended in 2011.

Other issues which the plaintiffs brought forward were that NABDA, which by the way are part of the governing Board of NBMA, in their application did not state adequate measures put in place to prevent cross pollination with natural varieties during field trials and that NBMA granted the permits without any public hearing regardless of the consequential issues raised in objections sent in by the Plaintiffs.

HOMEF maintains that agricultural biotechnology along with its current advances come with specific risks both immediate and long-term and require thorough safety assessments.

Recently, the Jury in San Francisco, USA after deliberating for days found that Monsanto’s glyphosate based weed killer caused cancer for a man named DeWayne Johnson, who used the weed killer for his job as groundskeeper in a school. Monsanto was ordered by the Jury to pay a fine of $289 million to the man for failure to warn him and other citizens about risks posed by its weed-killing products.

These same products accompany the cultivation of the seeds our regulatory agency is bent on flooding the Nigerian environment with. GMOs are accompanied with heavy doses of herbicides, most of which have with glyphosate, which in addition to the health risks degrade soils.

According to Nnimmo Bassey, environmental activist and Director at HOMEF, “Nigeria’s present regulatory architecture cannot ensure food and environmental safety as shown by the manner in which the National Biosafety Management Agency handles GMO applications. One troubling example is the case of genetically modified maize varieties which were illegally shipped into country by WACOT Nig. Ltd. in September 2017. The agency after announcing that together with the Nigerian customs service they would ensure that the illegal seeds were repatriated approved an application by this company to import these products over a period of 3 years, barely a month after its announcement that illegal maize should be repatriated.    This action contradicts the biosafety law which requires 270 days’ notice before imports to allow for adequate safety assessments.”

Bassey emphasized that “the only essence of genetically modified crops is for the economic benefit of the biotechnology corporations and their counterparts and not the interest of Nigeria.  With the release of these products into the environment, damage will be irreversible and the current economic strength of Nigeria cannot afford that damage.”

The activist added further in the statement that this ruling by the court encourages the administrative rascality and constant disregard for public interest and due process.

It is instructive to note that while the case awaited judgment, the defendants, NBMA, Monsanto and NABDA on 26th July went ahead to register and release the Bt cotton varieties (MRC 7377 BG11 and MRC 7361 BG11) along with other GM product into the Nigerian environment. These cotton varieties refer to the same cotton MON 15985 in the suit as evident on the website of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- Biotech Applications (ISAAA). This shows a stark disregard for judicial processes and a violation of law and order.

“The health and economic welfare of all Nigerians, which constitutes our fundamental rights, are at risk if GMOs are allowed in the country. Nigerians must be aware that we are neither respected nor protected,” he warned.

Also reacting to the court ruling, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, Lawyer and Chair of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) said in the statement that it would have been in the interest of justice to grant the reliefs set out on the face of the summons as this case represented not just consumers safety but the survival of millions of small scale farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by the corporate takeover of food systems in the guise of agricultural biotechnology. “We hope that when the impacts of GMOs sets in, the government of Nigeria will  not  say  ‘we were not informed or warned  about the impacts of GMOs.’ ” 

It is regrettable that Federal High Court’s decision came at a time when the Chemical Company Monsanto has only been recently found guilty of knowingly causing grievous harm to one its consumers. This is not the first time Monsanto has been dragged to court. It is on record that Monsanto spends enormous amounts on legal defence to fend off the cases brought by the victims of its activities. Monsanto has a history of impunity, abuses and crimes. They manufacture highly toxic products that have contaminated the environment and permanently sickened or killed thousands of people around the world. They have destroyed life, plant and human health alike.

In April 2017, The Monsanto Tribunal of international judges presented in The Hague their legal opinion after 6 months of analysing the testimonies of more than 30 witnesses, lawyers and experts. Their conclusions are that Monsanto’s practices undermine basic human rights and the right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health, it calls for better protective regulations for victims of multinational corporations and concludes that International law should clearly assert the protection of the environment and recognise ‘ecocide’ as a crime. Monsanto was found guilty!

Earlier in 2015, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization had reported that glyphosate, a major component of weed killers used worldwide was a potential carcinogen (cancer causing agent).

The civil society coalition is of strong conviction that this is a cause worth fighting and would continue to seek redress. The organizations pledge not to relent in pushing the case for food safety and food sovereignty in Nigeria.   They pledged to continue to resist attempts by Monsanto, its international and local partners to control our food, land, life and democracy.