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Setting Record Straight On TELA Maize: A Scientist’s Perspective

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Dr. Rose Gidado.
Dr. Rose Gidado

I recently watched a YouTube video titled “Nigeria Government Launches Bill Gates-Funded Artificial Maize” and read many negative posts about GMOs on social media. As a scientist, I rely on facts and evidence to form my opinions. To my dismay, most of these posts were made by artists, social media influencers and environmentalists. While everyone has the right to their opinion, it’s essential for Nigerians to be mindful of the risk of misinformation on social media.

The Nigerian government’s launch of TELA maize has been met with unwarranted criticism and misinformation. Contrary to claims, GMOs have been extensively tested and proven safe for human consumption by reputable scientific organisations worldwide. In many countries where this technology is adopted and used, there is access to credible sources of information on GM technology, such as:

1. National science academies

2. International organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)

3. Peer-reviewed scientific journals

4. Regulatory agencies responsible for GMO oversight

These sources provide evidence-based information on the safety and benefits of GMOs, enabling policymakers to make informed decisions that balance public health, environmental and economic concerns.

Based on this evidence, many governments have demonstrated a commitment to science-based decision-making, ensuring that their policies and regulations reflect the best available scientific evidence.

Therefore, the TELA Maize initiative by Nigeria is driven by the need to continually seek advanced agricultural technologies to feed a growing population of over 200 million. The introduction of TELA maize is aimed at improving yield and resistance to pests, not solely to combat hunger, but equally as a source of raw materials for industries and to generate employment opportunities, grow the economy, and contribute to our GDP. It’s important to note that before any crop, especially genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is registered and released, it undergoes stringent regulatory processes to ensure it is safe for human consumption and environmentally friendly. The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has thoroughly vetted TELA maize varieties.

The NBMA follows rigorous procedures for the approval of GMOs. It is crucial for individuals to verify the safety processes with the regulator before spreading potentially misleading information. Additionally, the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties, Livestock Breeds, and Fisheries is responsible for registering and releasing crop varieties and animal breeds. They have established criteria that must be met and they confirmed that TELA maize meets these standards, including resistance to stem borers, fall armyworm and high yield to the farmers.

It is unfortunate that some media practitioners publish information without verifying the facts. We are curious about the source of claims regarding health concerns with TELA maize developed by Nigerian scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research, IAR, Zaria under Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria facilitated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, AATF, Nairobi. If there were genuine health issues, regulatory bodies such as NBMA, NAFDAC, or the Federal Ministry of Health would have issued warnings. Trust in our governmental organizations is crucial; they are fully capable of ensuring public safety without foreign intervention.

As scientists, we rely on evidence-based issues. We challenge anyone to present any documented cases of diseases linked to GMOs. All published claims lack substantiation; an alarmist approach is unwarranted.

Contrary to the claim that GMOs prevent farmers from replanting, it’s true that replanting GM seeds may not yield as much as the original seeds. Farmers can choose between achieving about 10 tonnes per hectare with original seeds or about 3 tonnes per hectare with conventional seeds. Treating agriculture as a business is essential for improving farmers’ livelihoods, and we cannot rely on outdated, low-yielding seeds.

We must base our opinions on factual evidence rather than conjecture. The National Biotechnology Research and Development Agency (NBRDA) is working hard to raise awareness about the benefits of GMOs. As of now, no credible evidence has shown dangerous effects from the products of genetic modification technology. Misinformation harms society, and it’s regrettable that there is a general distrust of the government. It’s implausible that all regulatory bodies would conspire against the citizens. It is important for scientists to continuously engage the media on some of these technologies, and I believe this is being done; maybe we need to step up the game. I know the truth shall prevail.

However, it’s good to note that most of the posts on social media platforms about GMOs are “internet fake news” that cannot stand up to scrutiny. Bill Gates is not behind the invention of any of the COVID vaccinations. He offered to invest in scaling up manufacturing. Bill Gates is not behind Monsanto; that company is owned by Bayer. Monsanto had already developed and commercialised GM crops before Gates set up his foundation. Gates is not behind the introduction of GMOs into Africa, looking at the history of GM in Africa.

Dr. Rose Gidado is the director, agricultural biotechnology department at the National Biotechnology Research and Development Agency.

Dr. Rose Gidado
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