The Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Mr. Nnimmo Bassey has faulted the federal government on the establishment of National Biotechnology Development Agency, before setting up a biosafety agency.
The Federal government had in April 2001 approved the establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA). The Agency was established under the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to implement the policy that is aimed at promoting, coordinating, and setting research and development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria.
At a stakeholders’ Conference on “Agricultural Technofixes And The State of Biosafety In Nigeria,” in Abuja on Monday, Mr. Bassey argued that the establishment of NABDA before a biosafety agency is a disaster waiting to happen. According to him, NABDA may have been compromised in discharging its duties due to the incessant influx of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods in the market.
GMO is an organism that has had its DNA altered or modified in some way through genetic engineering.
“Nigeria took the wrong step by setting up a biotechnology promoting agency before setting up a biosafety agency. By the reason of the promoter midwifing the biosafety agency and consolidating this scenario by law, separating the two has become a herculean task,” Bassey explained.
He added further that NABDA and the regulatory National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) lack capacity to handle technicalities in both the mainstream and new fields of extreme technofixes. The way forward to making things right in the biosafety field according to him “will be through legislation and through having a biosafety agency that is neutral, regards the opinion of citizens and accepts the basic biosafety plan if precautionary principle.”
Earlier, the Minister of State for Environment, SSharon Ikeazo, in her remarks, noted that the federal government in its effort to ensure international best practices in the application of modern biotechnology has put in place the necessary legal and policy instruments to guide its development and use.
He explained that the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) was established in 2015, to provide regulatory framework for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria with a view to prevent any adverse on human health, animal and the environment.
“Few years after the establishment of NBMA, the agency has issued permits for trials, commercial release and importation for processing of various genetically modified crops, ranging from those modified to confer insect or pest resistance to those modified to withstand harsh environmental conditions such as drought and those bio-fortified with various minerals and vitamins,” the Minister said.
The Minister in his speech pressed on that “each of these permits was issued after carrying out a mandatory environmental impact assessment of the potential risk the GMO poses to human health, animal or the environment in Nigeria.”
However, experts at the conference argued that GMO food is not safe for human consumption and government should look inward and advocate for more organic processed food.
“The manipulation of genetic makeup of living organisms to engineer crops to make them act as pesticides is a call for pandemic like the country is currently experiencing. When toxic herbicides are produced to kill all other crops except the ones genetically engineered to withstand them, nature responds by offering super weeds,” Bassey noted.
Tutfeng, an expert in the Biosafety sector posited that he current adoption of GMO is causing more havoc in the agricultural sector and exposing farmers to severe health challenge
His words: “The onus rest on the regulators to do the right thing. They need to tell us what they are doing. When it comes to labelling, it is difficult. We need to take some time and read some of these things. For others like beans and other commodities we may have to be more careful when buying them.
We need to keep engaging the farmers on why they should discard GMO. Our laws do not protect us from genetically modified products and we don’t have capacity to contain the unforeseen contingencies that come with it. Some of the GMO promoters are the ones writing our laws.”
A participant at the conference advised that “the first caution is for everyone to make up his or her mind to apply information that are scientifically sound and socially correct. The promoters of GMO do it for financial gain and not in the interest of the society. We should not take everything that comes to us free.”
“Promoters of GMO claim that what they are coming with is scientific and clinically proven which is untrue. You must be very diligent in checking what you eat and in buying your food,” another participant added.