The Director-General, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba, says inadequate public awareness on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) leads to misguided information.
Ebegba said this during an interactive session with editors of media houses on controversies surrounding GMOs in the country on Thursday, April 18, 2019 in Abuja.
He said that majority of the masses do not know the functions of NBMA, hence the mistake of seeing the agency as a promoter of GM products.
“The NBMA was established by an Act of the National Assembly in 2015, with the primary aim to provide a regulatory framework to adequately safeguard human health and the environment from potential adverse effects of modern biotechnology.
“In addition to GMOs, it is also aimed at harnessing the potential of modern biotechnology and its derivatives for the benefit of Nigerians.
“The agency was not established to stop GMOs but to ensure that only GM products that are safe for humans and the environment are approved for release and use in Nigeria,’’ he said.
The D-G said that NBMA owed it as a duty to Nigerians to ensure that any product approved for importation or commercialisation was safe for humans and the environment.
“You should note that the families of NBMA staff, the National Biosafety Committee and the National Biosafety Technical Sub-committee, all buy from the same market and they will be putting their families’ lives at risk if they approve unsafe GM products.
“We will continue to ensure that only safe GMOs will be allowed either for planting, consumption or processing in Nigeria.’’
He said that the agency had never taken any decision in isolation but had always carried the public along through the involvement of professionals in its decision making.
“During the review of application, we have two committees, the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) and the National Biosafety Technical Sub-committee, (NBTS) who are involved in the processes.
“These committees are made up of professionals and experts from the academia, line government agencies, civil society groups and other stakeholders, who painstakingly analyse the applications, and review the risk management and risk assessment plans before a decision is made.’’
He urged the public to get in touch with the agency for questions regarding the functions of the NBMA.
“I urge anyone who is in doubt or might have any question to come to the agency or go to the agency’s website to get the needed and correct information, and should, as a matter of fact, clarify information when in doubt.
“If modern biotechnology and its products – GMOs are not regulated, it will lead to dumping of unsafe GM products in the country.
“Therefore, regulating this sector is key for the sanctity of safety of GM products in the markets,’’ he added.
Ebegba said that the GMO crops so far approved by the NBMA were not yet in the market.
“Even though approvals have been given for their commercial release, they still have to undergo other instant procedures such as through the Variety Release Committee and the National Seed Service.
“We have only granted permit for commercial release of Bt Cotton insect resistant and Bt Cowpea modified for resistance to Maruca insect pest.
“Other approvals given are for the importation of GM soybeans and GM Maize for food and feed processing.’’
Ebegba called for continuous partnership from the editors as stakeholders to take Nigeria and indeed Nigerians to the next level.
The editors, who responded praised the D-G for the work done so far within the short period of the agency’s existence, however emphasised the need for more awareness on GMOs.
Mr Yusuf Alli, the Editor of The Nation newspaper urged the agency to continuously work with the media to educate Nigerians on the regulation of the new technology.
By Ebere Agozie