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FishNet Alliance raises alarm over arrival of GM tilapias in Nigeria

By Nneka Nwogwugwu

FishNet Alliance, a network of fishers engaged in the promotion of sustainable fishing, has raised alarm over the arrival of genetically modified (GM) tilapias in Nigeria this May.

According to a statement by the group on Thursday, the improved tilapia is to be introduced following “an inclusive legal agreement” between WorldFish and Premium Aquaculture Limited through a programme on genetically improved farmed Tilapia (GIFT).

According to a report from the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, “This agreement will augur the establishment of a GIFT-based aquaculture industry in Nigeria. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are collaborating with WorldFish and PAL on this endeavor with the aim of having WorldFish/PAL GIFT tilapia in Nigerian fish markets by late 2023.”

The genes used to improve the tilapia could have come from a variety of organisms, including other fish, coral, mice, bacteria, or even humans.

Stephen Oduware, coordinator of the FishNet Alliance, stated that, “Improved Tilapia will not tackle the root cause of challenges in the fisheries sector in Nigeria. Neither will it solve the hunger and malnutrition problems in the country.

“The issues affecting the Nigerian fisheries sector namely: pollution due to oil and gas and other minerals exploration and exploitation; insecurity and piracy; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities of national and international trawlers – leading to overfishing of both target and non-target species of fish; destruction of the mangrove forests amongst other issues – are matters that government should focus attention on,” he added.

A new study has found that genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) zebrafish (Danio rerio) have escaped from fish farms in Brazil and are multiplying in creeks in Brazil.

“The escape of GM fish from Brazil should be a big wake-up call for our Nigerian Regulators and Government,” said Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Program with Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Africa.

Groups such as HOMEF and ERA/ FoEN, GM Free Nigeria that are concerned about genetically engineered organisms in the country have consistently complained about the weak nature of biosafety regulatory framework inthe country.

Reacting to the news of genetically improved tilapia on the way to Nigeria, the director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey, cautioned that “The Nigerian environment is already bedeviled with many genetically engineered crops and products of which farmers and consumers are not aware of.

“We are concerned that the introduction of genetically improved tilapia may be a step towards the introduction of genetically engineered fish into the country.

“Moreover, we are not aware that there was consultation with majority fishers and consumers in the country before the so-called inclusive agreement that opened the door for this tilapia specie was signed.

“we see the so-called gift of genetically improved tilapia as potentially having adverse effects on our food system and on the livelihoods of millions of fisherfolks and processors.

“We also call on our government to put a stop to approvals of genetically modified fish, animals, or plants in Nigeria until the biosafety regulatory system is strengthened and tightened.

“We also demand that in all cases public participation should be mandatory to ensure transparency and the Precautionary Principle should be adhered to strictly in all cases.”

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