Bern, 1 September 2018. Switzerland has high regulatory standards when it comes to research with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This is not the case in Nigeria. Currently, ETH Zurich is conducting a crop trial with genetically modified cassava. This has met with resistance from the local population.
There is little information on environmental and health safety and no biosafety analysis to support the experiment: in Switzerland or the EU, the GM cassava crop trial conducted by ETH Zurich and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) would probably never have been authorised. Things are different in Nigeria. For its crop trial the Swiss university is taking advantage not only of the suitable climatic conditions in Africa, but also of the lower requirements in terms of safety standards. The concerns of the local population are largely overlooked, while Swiss NGOs’ demands have only partially been responded to.
Low regulatory approval standards in Nigeria
ETH Zurich has devoted many years to research into genetically modified cassava, an important staple food in many developing countries. Researchers hope to gain valuable insights from the trial. However, “regulatory approval standards for testing in Nigeria are far below those in Switzerland or the EU,” explains Paul Scherer of Schweizer Allianz Gentechfrei (SAG). The trial also uses RNA interference technology (RNAi), which so far has not been widely used, and the associated risks are hardly known. “ETH Zurich needs to carry out serious independent research into the risks. Instead, its application provides few details on risk research. This approach would be unthinkable in Switzerland,” says Judith Reusser of SWISSAID.
The population is being overlooked
In addition, the public consultation carried out in Nigeria is something of a farce: the trial was authorised just two days after the Nigerian biosafety authority gave its opinion on the objections of 88 local NGOs and promised a critical review of the application. “Unfortunately, civil society hardly has any say in many developing countries. ETH Zurich should accept responsibility here,” comments Tina Goethe of Brot für alle. Together with SWISSAID and SAG, she contacted the ETH almost a year ago to request information. The answers remain incomplete to this day.