Comparing a Decade-Long Debate Over the Safety of GMOs with Anti-COVID 19 Vaccination: a Cynical and Callous Manipulation Attempt

By Mfoniso Antia and Zahra Moloo – For Africa Technology Assessment Platform

Colonization of Africa is said to have ended between 1950 and 1975. This wasn’t an all-pleasing move to some in the global North, as there has since been a careful and deliberate attempt to re-colonize, control and exploit Africa and the African people. There have been strategic moves by big corporations towards land grabs and market/food system take-over in Africa – as seen in corporate concentration and control attempts in the African food system. 

The entrance of multinationals and big corporations into the African market space has been for nothing but to plunder and profit while leaving the people impoverished and enslaved with a devastated environment – very clear example is seen with what the oil multinationals have done to environments and the people in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

Civil Society Organizations, individuals, groups, and the academia have attempted to raise concerns over the modus operandi of these corporations and have often been tagged as anti-development. The most recent of such being an article in The Conversations written by some authors from Cornell, Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the African Development Bank, which connects vaccine conspiracy behavior with anti-GMO movements, which they claim are depriving Africans of life saving biotech. 

This article calls hesitation due to safety concerns and the call by concerned individuals and groups for liability/redress, misinformation. To suggest that decades-long debates all over the world about the impacts of GMOs, corporate take-over of agriculture, and democratic deliberation about who controls our food systems is the same thing as anti-COVID Vaccination is a cynical attempt to avoid honestly addressing the real needs of Africans and African farmers, our seeds and soil. This is a callous attempt at manipulation and this is dishonest.

Africans deserve the same right to engage in democratic deliberation as other countries – including the dozens with full bans on GMOs. The peddlers of corporate GMO agenda are dishonestly avoiding any discussion of the impacts of GMOs on the autonomy of farmers, the right to seeds, the use of GMOs to further control who can grow what, where, when and how. 

The pertinent question to ask the pro-GMO groups would be; why is democratic debate about GMOs okay in Europe, the US, Canada and so many other countries but not for African Countries? With dozens of nations banning GMOs and even more regulating them to protect farmers, Africans deserve the same right to democratic debate and not the dishonest dismissals and false equivalencies currently being peddled.

It is important to state here that falsely claiming that anti-GMO activists are conspiracy theorists actually adds to the misinformation and thus feeds the vicious circle of conspiracy theory-making that the authors of the said article claim to oppose. 

The article rightly stated that 99% of the GM crops are insect resistant and pesticides tolerant, shouldn’t this call for concerns, knowing that the crops have been engineered to become pesticides themselves? Shouldn’t Africans be concerned about consuming crops that are engineered to be pesticides? The question in the minds of the people about GM crops has been- is it possible to eat something that can kill pests and still be safe and healthy?

It is important to reiterate that Africans do not need pesticide engineered crops, nor do their farmers. African farmers have over the years used local methods of pest control without poisoning consumers. There are farming methods that work hand-in-hand with nature and produces crops that are safe for consumption. 

Agroecology is one of such and should be encouraged. African farmers, especially those in Nigeria need extension workers, ways of preserving farm produces and transportation to the cities where there are huge consumer markets. Genetically modified crops and mono-cropping with the aim of market/food system take-over and control is what they do not need.

The article rightly mentioned that anti-GM movement originated from the US and Europe, if individuals or countries in these regions reject the failed technology, why should Africans accept it? If the technology was as safe as claimed, its proponents should spend more time convincing the countries of its origin rather than strategically planning to dump the technology in Africa. Africa is not a petri-dish for tests/trials and should not be made a dumping ground for failed and rejected technologies. Africans do not need Cornell or AGRA squad to lecture on GMOs. Farmers have learned first-hand about spectacular failure of GM cotton in Burkina Faso, the permitting system in Nigeria doesn’t engender any confidence in the technology either. Uganda has insisted on strict liability requirements, and the GMO proponents bristle over that as anti-science. Is science averse to responsibility?

To the pro-GM groups, it is wrong to use the COVID crisis to cynically push your pro-GMO agenda. It is anti-scientific to avoid or dismiss scrutiny. Comparing our critiques to anti-vax critiques is a way of avoiding addressing the real critiques we have raised. The two things are not the same thing and criticism for both shouldn’t be compared.

The concerns of the people regarding the vaccines have been about the way the vaccines have been developed and rolled out – including the total lack of international coordination to ensure equitable access, for example; and the lack of transparency on how they managed to take a 4years process down to less than 18 months. Shouldn’t the safety of the vaccines be questioned especially seeing that the likes of Gates Foundation is championing the cause of its deployment to Africa?

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