Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ERA bags Bloomberg Philantrophies Awards

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria has been announced as one of four awardees of the 2009 Bloomberg Awards for Global Tobacco Control. “I applaud the award recipients for their extraordinary commitment to confront the tobacco epidemic – the most important public health effort of out time.” said Michael R. Bloomberg. Each award winner received a grant of $100,000 from Bloomberg Philanthropies to intensify their work in tobacco control.  Nominations and selection for the Bloomberg Awards for Global Tobacco Control were completed by a panel of international experts.

The awards for excellence in monitoring and publicizing tobacco industry activities intended to increase tobacco use and undermine tobacco control effort was accepted by Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, a Programme Manager with ERA/FOEN at the 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Mumbai, India. “Tobacco companies have mapped out the tender lungs of our youth and women as enormous profit opportunities” “Sadly, Africa is the newest frontier for tobacco companies.” “This is what ERA/FOEN is dedicated to resisting.”Mr. Oluwafemi said. ERA/FOEN has monitored and exposed the marketing activities of the tobacco industry, and they have faced the industry’s numerous attempts to undermine tobacco control policies in Nigeria head-on by exposing the front groups used by the industry to carry out its activities. They have also highlighted unfair practices towards tobacco farmers and indifference to child labor.

The awards were created this year to recognize governments and non-governmental organizations in low- and middle-income countries that demonstrate extraordinary achievement in the implementation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) MPOWER policies regarding tobacco control. The awards included $400,000 in grants and were given by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. Patricia E. Harris, a representative of Bloomberg Philanthropies, who is also First Deputy Mayor of the City of New York, presided over the awards ceremony, which was attended by representatives from governments and tobacco control organizations from over 30 countries.

The Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use was established in 2006 by Michael R. Bloomberg and includes a $375 million commitment over six years to combat the global tobacco epidemic. Modeled after internationally proven strategies and the policies that worked in New York City where Mr. Bloomberg is Mayor, the Initiative supports government and non-governmental projects and policies that reduce tobacco use and save lives.  This includes increasing tobacco taxes, changing the image of tobacco, protecting nonsmokers from exposure to other people’s smoke and helping people quit.

Tobacco is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today, killing half of smokers unless they quit. More than one billion people worldwide currently smoke tobacco – about one quarter of adults – and tobacco use currently kills more than five million people worldwide each year. Tobacco use continues to grow in developing countries due to steady population growth along with aggressive tobacco industry marketing efforts. If current trends continue, deaths from tobacco will double in the next few decades, and could kill a billion people this century. More than three quarters of these deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries. “Through MPOWER, we have proven methods for how to greatly reduce smoking and save millions of lives worldwide, and need organizations with the will and dedication to implement them.” said Michael R. Bloomberg.


The six components of MPOWER are:


Monitor tobacco use and the policies to prevent it

            Protect people from tobacco smoke

            Offer people help to quit tobacco use

            Warn about the dangers of tobacco

            Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship

            Raise taxes on tobacco


Other awardees include: Mexico City Federal District Secretary of Health for protecting people from the dangers of tobacco smoke by providing essential political commitment to the recent passage of comprehensive smoke-free air legislation in Mexico City. Action on Smoking and Health Thailand (ASH Thailand) for warning people about the dangers of tobacco by providing extensive support to the revision of Thailand’s health warnings, ensuring that they were as strong as possible. Coalicion PanameƱa contra el Tabaquismo (COPACET) for implementation and enforcement of bans on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion in Panama.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ERA condemns Super Cassava Testing

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria and over 30 other civil society groups in Nigeria have alleged as illegal the approval by the Federal Government for the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre, United States, to conduct field-testing of a genetically modified cassava christened “Super Cassava”.

ERA/FoEN’s position is premised on the recently reported approval of the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) for the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, to go ahead with plans to conduct “contained” field trials of genetically-modified cassava on the banks of the Qua Iboe River, Abia State. “The NBC has no power to grant this kind of approval…it can be likened to trading away our food future to modern colonialists that hide under the cover of agricultural biotechnology, and must be halted immediately”.

Details of the approval was revealed at the annual meeting of the American Society for the Advancement of Science, held in Chicago, U.S.A on February 13, 2009, where it was announced that Nigeria’s NBC had given the Danforth Centre approval to carry out field trials for GM cassava in collaboration with NRCRI.

In its reaction to the development, ERA/FoEN warned that the back door approach of the biotech industry and its Nigerian allies to introduce GM crops in the country will not only endanger Nigerians but is also a “breach” of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to which Nigeria is signatory, which seeks among others to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.

 "Nigeria does not need any super cassava. The genetic modification of cassava to produce Vitamin A is fraught with many dangers to the health of Nigerians who depend on cassava as a staple. Some years back the biotech industry engineered the so-called golden rice to be rich in Vitamin A, but one would need to eat 9 kilograms of that rice to have as much Vitamin A as one would have from eating just two small carrots! The golden rice was a golden hoax and the super cassava will turn out to be super fraud”, said ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey in a statement issued in Lagos.

"Nigerians have used different fora to voice outright rejection of GMs rops and public opinion is massively against the commercialization of our stomachs. This cannot be done through the backdoor and we have made it lear that the solution to our food needs is with our local farmers and not with Danforth Centre, Monsanto and their local allies"

“It is very clear now that like the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the NRCRI is unfortunately becoming another front for the same companies in their push for introduction of GM into Nigeria. Why cassava? What happened to the over 40 so-called hybrid of cassava that the IITA allegedly developed which it said has the capacity to resist diseases and solve our cassava needs?" Bassey queried.

 He pointed out that the planned field testing is a well-scripted and systematic attempt by the biotech industry at breaking down Africa’s regulatory resistance to GM crops, even as he added that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation early this year awarded Danforth Centre a $5.4 million grant to secure approval of African governments to allow field testing of GM crops.

 Accordingly, he maintained that the application letter from NRCRI to the ministry of environment, housing and urban development, dated November 14, 008, saying it would work closely with an unknown Nigerian Biosafety Office is enough evidence that the research institute is not fully informed about the structure of Nigeria’s biosafety regime hence, the need to halt the testing exercise.

Time and again we have said that the solution to Nigeria’s food crisis s in consistency in government policies as regards involving local farmers in planning and strengthening their skills not GM crops. It is also pertinent to remind the promoters of this misadventure that Nigeria’s biosafety law is still in draft form and is yet to be deliberated by the National Assembly. Any field testing OF GM crops is nothing short of an illegality which must not be allowed, Bassey insisted.

Mrs. Juliana Odey, national coordinator of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association, Cross River State, said “Cassava is our Gold. We don¹t want these GM crops because we have enough cassava cuttings to feed this nation. The food problem in Africa is waste, due to lack of storage facilities.  Governments should not implement policies that affect farmers without consulting with farmers.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Senate holds second reading of tobacco control bill

The bill on National Tobacco Control, 2009, has passed through the second reading in the Senate.

The bill, if passed, will repeal the Tobacco Smoking (Control) Act No. 20 of 1990/CAP T6, Laws of the Federal Republic, and domesticate the WHO's initiated Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, which came into effect on February27, 2007. Nigeria signed the treaty in June 2004 and ratified it in October 2005.

The bill, sponsored by the Deputy Minority Leader of the Senate, Olorunnimbe Mamora, will also make it an offence to sell tobacco products to persons under the age of 18 (sale of cigarettes by the sticks, and all forms of adverts, sponsorships, testimonials and sales promotion by tobacco firms).

The legislative order will also mandate cigarette packs to carry a special pictorial warning that covers half of the packet, warning users about the dangers of smoking.

"Tobacco is the only product that when used as designed by the manufacturer, will surely kill or harm users," Mr Mamora said, in his lead debate on the bill.

Experts say tobacco contains over 4,000 toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that are linked with at least 200 diseases. In Dec 2008, a WHO report said that, except new treatments are found, cancer will overtake malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined; becoming the world's leading killer by 2010.

In Nigeria, a health statistic says the percentage of smokers has risen by over 18 percent in the past decade.

Mr Mamora said that results from 11 out of 26 public hospitals in Lagos State, where a research was conducted, show that about two persons die daily from tobacco related diseases. Experts say, on the average such diseases can take up to 20 years to manifest.

Before now, the Federal Government and some state governments had gone to court against tobacco companies, claiming damages for ailing citizens.

Some tobacco companies, probably escaping tougher regulations, like high taxes, anti-smoking campaigns, and ads stoppage in Western countries, have moved to Nigeria.

The senator said "while the ‘investment' might have provided job opportunities for about 1,000 Nigerians, it is also responsible for the deaths of many thousands more."

Last week, the Federal Government asked state governments to do more in regulating tobacco use, particularly in public places.