Reality-Check
June 6, 2014
Nigerian paper sows misinformation on GM and hybrid seeds

On May 19, the The Guardian, a Nigerian newspaper, published a commentary alleging that genetically modified and even hybrid seeds are carcinogenic and “deadly.” The author of the commentary? A Nigerian architect with a self-professed “passion for geo-political sustainability, equity and fairness.”

Let’s leave aside the obvious question of whether architects, however qualified, should be considered authorities on anything other than building design. Many of the accusations in Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour’s rant lack any credible substantiation, or are just downright bizarre. For example, his claim that biotech tomatoes (which don’t exist, btw) can become toxic and cause cancer. Of course! Just what every seed company wants to sell! Or his rhetorical question of whether the “250,000 Bt cotton farmer suicides in India” (See Monsanto Myth # 3) are sustainable.

Another Nigerian newspaper, Newsdiary online, published a response by Abdallah el-Kurebe, an award-winning Media Fellow of Biosciences for Farming in Africa and President of African Journalists Network for Agriculture, that addresses several of the most pernicious myths found in Rhodes-Vivour’s commentary. Moreover, his response mentions the food security context in Nigeria and some of the benefits associated with GMOs, which the earlier commentary conveniently neglected to mention.

“Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation (167 million) and a food deficit country is not debatable,” wrote el-Kurebe. “That the country’s subsistence agriculture can no longer supply the needs of its growing population is undoubtedly true. This is the very reason for the country’s adoption of agricultural biotechnology and the biosafety law seeks to provide the framework for Nigerian scientists who have done much research to move forward from field trials into commercial testing phases for eventual deployment to farmers,” he wrote.

Newspapers do not feel compelled to print commentaries by people who claim the earth is flat, or that the sun revolves around the earth, or that vaccines cause autism. That would be irresponsible and in each case factually incorrect. Why, then, do media organizations continue to give space to anti-GM activists with absolutely no qualifications to rant about the alleged risks of GM seeds, which the world’s leading scientific and public health authorities have deemed to be every bit as safe as conventional seeds and foods? 

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