By Emmanuel Elebeke
The Director General, National Biosafety Management Agency, NABMA, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, has said that no Genetically Modified Organism, GMO, food will be allowed into Nigeria without the full permission of the regulatory agency.
He made this known in Abuja during a stakeholder’s workshop organised by the National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA in conjunction with Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Nigeria, OFAB .
Speaking on the topic, “Imperatives of safety in the interest of Consumers and the Environment”, Ebegba said that NABMA, as the sole agency empowered by law to regulate the use and application of GMOs in the country had taken steps to ensure that only approved and certified GMO products are allowed into Nigeria. He alleyed the fears of some Nigerians that the products are not safe .
He noted that the Federal Government came up with a law to back up the application of modern biotechnology after parties to the GMOs Protocol were mandated to domesticate the Protocol through administrative and legal frame works, which eventually gave birth to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).
It will be recalled that the Seventh Assembly passed the Biosafety Bill into law in 2014 to pave way for the application of modern biotechnology in the country, following the establishment of NABMA as a regulatory agency.
The NABMA boss who stressed the imperative of modern biotechnology to food production and food safety pointed out that new technologies often offer great potentials to economic growth, but added that they also need to be adequately monitored to ensure that they are safe, as well as being environmentally and socially sustainable.
Although, GMOs are beneficial to the society, Ebegba said concerns remained over the risks they may pose to human, animal health and the environment.
“There are many socio-economic considerations that need to be kept in view. Modern biotechnology means the fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family that overcomes natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.”
On the safety of GMOs foods, he maintained that safety in modern biotechnology practice and the use on GMOs is not negotiable.
Although, the development of this new technology has naturally raised concerns about public safety and welfare, he explained that the most publicized risk of biotechnology is the inadvertent escape and subsequent establishment of recombinant organisms in the environment.
While commenting on the global debate on the environmental and health safety issues surrounding GM Crops, he observed that the voices of those against the technology were louder while those of Pro were not much heard, and called for a mechanism that will remove the unfounded fears.
“Scientists and other proponents of modern biotechnology and GMOs must make conscious efforts to enlighten the public. Regulators should have the courage to regulate and create confidence in the minds of the public.
“The public must trust government position in the regulation of modern biotechnology and GMOs,” he said.
In her address, the Director General of NABDA, Prof. Lucy Ogbadu blamed the ongoing debate and criticism against GMOs foods on ignorance of some professionals, who she said need more education rather than feeding people with misinformation about GMO crops.
She also blamed the National Assembly for allowing the members who were ignorant of the new law to kick against the same law passed by the previous assembly.
“The reason for convening this meeting is for the topical issue of GMO foods. We noticed that people who should know, do not know, then we decided to bring people together.
“We are dealing with ignorant public. We are worried that people who should know do not know. It is either of ignorance or greed that they are doing what they are doing. Let us not assume that we are all of like mind. What we need to is to establish a network to enlighten the public the more.
“The mischief being propagated can be hinged on economic gains. What we set out to achieve will not happen in one day but will continue to interact with stakeholders. That is why we must go back to reading. Advocacy is critical,” she explained.