We analyze the application filed for the marketing and cultivation of genetically engineered Bt cowpea (event AAT 709A) approved in Nigeria in 2019. Cowpea (Vigna ungiguiculata) is extensively grown throughout sub-Saharan Africa and consumed by around two hundred million people. The transgenic plants produce an insecticidal, recombinant Bt toxin meant to protect the plants against the larvae of Maruca vitrata, which feed on the plants and are also known as pod borer. Our analysis of the application reveals issues of concern regarding the safety of the Bt toxins produced in the plants. These concerns include stability of gene expression, impact on soil organisms, effects on non-target species and food safety. In addition, we show deficiencies in the risk assessment of potential gene flow and uncontrolled spread of the transgenes and cultivated varieties as well as the maintenance of seed collections. As far as information is publicly available, we analyze the application by referring to established standards of GMO risk assessment. We take the provisions of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) into account, of which both Nigeria and the EU are parties. We also refer to the EU standards for GMO risk assessment, which are complementary to the provisions of the CPB.
Keywords: Bt cowpea; Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety; GMOs; LMOs; biodiversity; environmental risk assessment; food safety; gene flow; transgenic plants.