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Groups warn against release of genetically-engineered mosquitoes in Nigeria

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Over 75 Civil Society Organizations from Nigeria, Africa and the world have condemned moves to open the way for the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in Nigeria.

Their condemnation follows a recent call by the West African Integrated Vector Management Programme and the National Biosafety Management Agency for the fast track the introduction of genetically based vector control methods such as transgenic mosquitoes into Nigeria.

Reacting, the coalition in a statement warned against the introduction of the transgenic mosquitoes, genetically modified vectors or other unproven technologies into Nigeria as such releases would pose serious risks to humans, the nations’ biodiversity and its ecosystem balance.

The groups noted that presently, there is no reviewed assessment of the transgenic mosquitoes or international protocols for evaluating its safety implications and as such should not be implemented in Nigeria.

The Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey, said the regulatory pathways for genetically engineered vector control of mosquitoes are actually rigged pathways to making the environment a testing ground for risky and needless experimentation.

“From our experience with genetically modified food crops in Nigeria, having the provisions in place to regulate the release of such organisms is equivalent to express permits for their introduction as the agency responsible for this regulation acts more like a promoter of the technology than a regulator. Nigeria must show leadership in the protection of African biodiversity and not allow an agency of government run amok with whatever technologies promoters suggest to it.”

Bassey added that tampering with genetic materials of living organisms is already creating problems in the world with the emergence and spread of zoonotic infections occasioned largely by the loss of genetic diversity and habitat losses due to such manipulations.

Speaking on the release of the vectors, Coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Program, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, said the shortcoming of these transgenic mosquitoes is already evident from experiments conducted in Brazil and in Burkina Faso.

“The release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in Brazil between 2013 and 2015 by the biotech company, Oxitec with the plan to reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes is shown to have resulted (in addition to the fact that the population of mosquitoes bounced back after a few months) to unexpected transfer of genes from the gene-edited mosquitoes to the native insects which gave rise to tougher hybrid species”, she explained.

“In July 2019, the genetically modified mosquitoes were released in Bana village in Burkina Faso by the Target Malaria research consortium as an initial test run before the open releases of gene drive mosquitoes, with the aim of reducing the population of Anopheles mosquitoes that causes malaria. The failure of this release includes the incidental release of some biting female mosquitoes during the experiments which puts the community people at risk.

“While we appreciate that malaria is a problem in Nigeria and many other nations and that urgent measures to address it are needed, we believe that transgenic mosquitoes are not the solution. Genetically Modified mosquitoes are a relatively new application of GM technology and present very different risks, and for which the international community has had virtually no risk assessment or regulatory experience. Nigeria does not need GMOs and no matter what their sponsors claim, we don’t have the capacity nor experience to dabble into this new, unfamiliar and risky technology,” the statement stressed.

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