Ify Aniebo: Why Nigerians Should Beware Of Genetically Modified Foods

Ify Aniebo: Why Nigerians Should Beware Of Genetically Modified Foods

By Julius Okeke | Sub Editor on June 18, 2014
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by Ify Aniebo

The federal Ministry of Agriculture under the direction of Dr. Akin Adesina has approved genetically modified seeds to be planted by farmers for consumption in Nigeria. It is important to understand the health risks of such foods as well as the consequences of allowing these companies set up in Nigeria without the proper indigenous scientific infrastructure to analyze its consequences.

Genetically modified foods are foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). GMO foods e.g. tomatoes, corn, maize are foods that have had their genetic material altered in some way through a bio-molecular human scientific interference. Genetic modification is achieved under lab conditions during which segments of DNA are spliced, rearranged or removed altogether and then inserted into crops.

The issue with this scientific advancement are the numerous links to cancers and diseases discovered by several independent researchers. The FDA (America’s version of NAFDAC) has no independent set of test to verify the claims made by bio-tech companies, so instead relies on the data given by the companies themselves.

The focus of scientific research is largely based on funding. These huge corporations regulate scientific research by providing funding for only research that advances their agenda, without an attempt to make a balanced inquiry in to the health effects and risk of their products.

The risks are enormous and will take years to study them. When we finally understand them it will be too late to reverse the damage once it has been proved conclusively that genetically engineered foods harm human health as a growing number of independent researchers believe. Some independent scientist ran tests on rats and found shocking results. This situation should bring to memory the long lasting debate about the dangers of cigarette smoking to health. For several years, most scientist funded by tobacco companies argued that smoking even had a beneficial effect on the human body despite knowing otherwise. Fortunately even with all their efforts, the truth came out eventually after a 50 year study directly linked cigarettes as the main cause of lung Cancer.

The companies that make GMOS e.g. Mosanto, Dupont and others make a lot of effort to hide those results done by independent scientists. Unfortunately for them, time has shown the effects of their foods and many countries in the WEST have banned GMO and now this technology is to be approved in Nigeria for your consumption and without your consent. Here is what you need to know.

Shocking Lab results with GM potatoes

A Scotland Rowett Research Institute researcher and world’s leading lectins and plant genetic modification expert, Arpad Pusztai conducted the first ever independent experiment. Like other researchers, he was shocked by his findings. Rats fed GM potatoes had smaller livers, hearts, testicles and brains, damaged immune systems, and showed structural changes in their white blood cells making them more vulnerable to infection and disease compared to other rats fed non-GMO potatoes. It got worse. Thymus and spleen damage showed up; enlarged tissues, including the pancreas and intestines; and there were cases of liver atrophy as well as significant proliferation of stomach and intestines cells that could be a sign of greater future risk of cancer. Equally alarming, results showed up after 10 days of testing, and they persisted after 110 days that’s the human equivalent of 10 years.

Lab test have shown that GMOs produce massive changes in the natural functioning of a plant’s DNA. Native genes can be mutated, deleted, permanently turned off or on. The inserted gene can become truncated, fragmented, mixed with other genes, inverted or multiplied, and the GM protein it produces may have unintended characteristics that may be harmful.

Genetic Roulette

GMOs also pose other health risks. When a transgene functions in a new cell, it can produce different proteins than the ones intended. Consider corn varieties engineered to produce a pesticidal protein called Bt-toxin. Farmers use it in spray form, and companies falsely claim it’s harmless to humans. The UN has estimated that health problems linked to pesticides could cost Africa $90 billon between 2005 and 2020.In fact, people exposed to the spray develop allergic-type symptoms, mice ingesting Bt had powerful immune responses and abnormal and excessive cell growth, and a growing number of human and livestock illnesses are linked to Bt crops.

Inserted genes from organisms have also been found in the bacteria in the human gut after digestion and another study found DNA in the peripheral blood circulation. Animals that were fed GM foods get sick and a growing number of human and livestock illnesses are linked to Bt crops. Inserted genes may move from food into gut bacteria or internal organs, causing these organs to potentially become cancerous. If corn genes with Bt-toxin get into gut bacteria, our intestinal flora may become pesticide factories. There’s been no research done by neither agri-business giants nor the FDA with a focus on the harm done to the consumers and so consumers are left to play “Genetic Roulette,” and the few animal feeding studies done show this is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode.

Illnesses linked to GMO

The few scientific research done on these foods have showed stunted growth, impaired immune systems, bleeding stomachs, abnormal and potentially precancerous cell growth in the intestines, impaired blood cell development, misshaped cell structures in the liver, pancreas and testicles, altered gene expression and cell metabolism, liver and kidney lesions, partially atrophied livers, inflamed kidneys, less developed organs, reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, inflamed lung tissue, increased death rates and higher offspring mortality as well.

There’s more. Two dozen farmers reported their pigs and cows fed GM corn became sterile, 71 shepherds said 25% of their sheep fed Bt cotton plants died, and other reports showed the same effects on cows, chickens, water buffaloes and horses. After GM soy was introduced in the UK, allergies from the product skyrocketed by 50%, and in the US in the 1980s, a GM food supplement killed dozens and left five to ten thousand others sick or disabled.

Independent Animal Studies Showing GMO Harm

Rats fed genetically engineered Calgene Flavr-Savr tomatoes (developed to look fresh for weeks) for 28 days got bleeding stomachs (stomach lesions) and seven died and were replaced in the study.

Rats fed Monsanto 863 Bt corn for 90 days developed multiple reactions typically found in response to allergies, infections, toxins, diseases like cancer, anaemia and blood pressure problems. Their blood cells, livers and kidneys showed significant changes indicative of disease.

Mice fed either GM potatoes engineered to produce Bt- toxin or natural potatoes containing the toxin had intestinal damage. Both varieties created abnormal and excessive cell growth in the lower intestine. The equivalent human damage might cause incontinence or flu-like symptoms and could be pre-cancerous. The study disproved the contention that digestion destroys Bt-toxin and is not biologically active in mammals.


Iowa farmers reported a conception rate drop of from 80% to 20% among sows (female pigs) fed GM corn. Most animals also had false pregnancies, some delivered bags of water and others stopped menstruating. Male pigs were also affected as well as cows and bulls. They became sterile and all were fed GM corn.

German farmer Gottfried Glockner, grew GM corn and fed it to his cows. Twelve subsequently died from the Bt 176 variety, and other cows had to be destroyed due to a “mysterious” illness. The corn plots were field trials for Agric biotech giant Syngenta that later took the product off the market with no admission of fault.

Liver and Pancreas failure

Mice fed Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans developed significant liver cell changes indicating a dramatic general metabolism increase. Symptoms included irregularly shaped nuclei and nucleoli, and an increased number of nuclear pores and other changes. It’s thought this resulted from exposure to a toxin, and most symptoms disappeared when Roundup Ready was removed from the diet.

Mice fed Roundup Ready had pancreas problems, heavier livers and unexplained testicular cell changes. The Monsanto product also produced cell metabolism changes in rabbit organs, and most offspring of rats on this diet died within three weeks.

The death rate for chickens fed GM Liberty Link corn for 42 days doubled. They also experienced less weight gain, and their food intake was erratic.

Animals reject GMO

When given a choice, animals avoid GM foods. This was learned by observing a flock of geese that annually visit an Illinois pond and feed on soybeans from an adjacent farm. After half the acreage had GM crops, the geese ate only from the non-GMO side. Another observation showed 40 deer ate organic soybeans from one field but shunned the GMO kind across the road. The same thing happened with GM corn.


Another study of Monsanto’s high-lysine corn showed it contained toxins and other potentially harmful substances that may retard growth. If consumed in large amounts, it may also adversely affect human health. In addition, when this product is cooked, it produces toxins associated with Alzheimer’s, diabetes, allergies, kidney disease, cancer and aging symptoms.

Disease-resistant crops like zucchini, squash and Hawaiian papaya may promote human viruses and other diseases, and eating these products may suppress the body’s natural defence against viral infections.

GM crops, the environment and us

GM crops interact with their environment and are part of a complex ecosystem that includes our food. These crops increase toxins in the environment and throughout the food chain. Crops genetically engineered to be glufosinate (herbicide) resistant may produce intestinal herbicide with known toxic effects.

Repeated use of seeds like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans results in vicious new super-weeds that need far greater amounts of stronger herbicides to combat. Their toxic residues remain in crops that humans and animals then eat. Even small amounts of these toxins are endocrine disruptors that can affect human reproduction adversely. Evidence exists that animals fed GM feed accumulate toxins which remain in their body and in milk produced by these animals. Disease-resistant crops may also produce new plant viruses that affect humans.

GM Milk and kids

All type GM foods, not just crops, carry these risks. Milk, for example, from cows injected with Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone (rbGH), has much higher levels of the hormone IGF-1 that risks breast, prostate, colon, lung and other cancers. The milk also has lower nutritional value. GM food additives also pose health risks, and their use has proliferated in processed foods. Another concern is that pregnant mothers eating GM foods may endanger their offspring by harming normal foetal development.


Ify Aniebo (Photo Courtesy Ify Aniebo)
Ify Aniebo (Photo Courtesy Ify Aniebo)

In nature a pig can mate with a pig and a tomato can mate with a tomato. But there is no way that a pig can mate with a tomato and vice versa. This is basically what GM crops are, hence the label “Frankenstein foods”. Nigeria’s health system currently lacks the capacity in terms of technology and infrastructure to deal with not just infectious diseases but cancers and other terminal diseases; shouldn’t we be preventing more diseases?

Today, most existing diseases in the country have no effective surveillance systems in place. GM foods will only create more health problems for our 170million citizens. Consider HIV/AIDS. It went unnoticed for decades and when identified, thousands of Nigerians were infected or had died.

Also, if the foods are unlabelled which they most likely will be as Nigeria does not have a system of identifying and labelling foods or allergens, it will be impossible to trace illness and diseases to specific substances ingested even if thousands of people are affected.

Nigeria lacks the scientific infrastructure in terms of world class bio-safety level 3 labs for any sort of bio-molecular experiments. Nigeria has also not invested in world class scientific programs to groom scientist that would look out for the interest of Nigeria in relation to bio-tech giants such as Monsanto and others. So one question remains, in whose interest is the introduction of GMO to the country for?

 Ify Aniebo (BSc, MSc, MRes, MPH) is a molecular geneticist from Oxford University, with a master’s in public health currently working on her PhD with a focus on the genomic determinant of Malaria infection. She was awarded the prestigious Young Person of the Year Award and the Best Use of Science Award by the future awards Africa. A bill gates scholar, she has worked at the top Genetic research institutions such as Illumina and the Sanger Institute. She was also recognized by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan during the centenary celebrations as an inventor and innovator.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


  1. Excellent opinion, although biased. The writer would have taken a more critical approach in her discussion of GMO and their effect. Her opinion on the effect of GMO on the enviroment are based on maybes and not with scientific facts like she excellently did with other points.
    One thing is for sure, edaphic and climatic factors that usually facilitate the optimum yield of various crops have been compromised by a lot of industrial processes. The yield farmers experience back in the days. This has made food not only scares but expensive; so desperate times comes for desperate mesures.
    It is also important to bear in mind that the population of Nigeria is increasing at an unequal rate with food crop production. And I believe GMO has an important role to play to fill in such gap.
    Although GMO could have it adverse effect like every other innovation. The appropriate solution should be provision of ethical/regulatory measure aimed at putting the production of GMO production in check so it wouldn’t get out of hand.
    There is no need crying wolf just yet, it’s just that NAFDAC has more work to do.

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