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Biotech, agric agencies allay fear of GMO crops

Some Federal Government agencies have allayed fears by Nigerians over the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) crops.

Mustapha Abdullahi
Director General, National Biotechnology Research and Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Mustapha Abdullahi

The agencies addressed the issue in Abuja on Thursday, July 4, 2024, during a World Joint News Conference, to inform Nigerians about the safety of GMO technology in agriculture.

The conference was in response to social media reports regarding the negative effects of GMOs, which the agencies described as misinformation and unfounded.

The agencies include the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), the National Biotechnology and Development Agency (NBDA), the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), and the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

Prof. Garba Sharubutu, Executive Secretary of ARCN, stated that the vast majority of studies had found no indication that GM foods posed a health threat.

Sharubutu noted that the scientific consensus was that gene-altered crops posed no more risks than those developed through conventional breeding techniques.

“More than 275 independent science organisations worldwide have concluded that food grown from genetically engineered seeds poses no unique health concerns,” he said.

He said that the agency was therefore, focused on ensuring prevention of drought and flood resistance, as well as improving productivity through GMO crops.

Sharubutu reassured Nigerians that GMO crops were not banned, and promised to take their concerns seriously, emphasising that there is no cause for alarm.

Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General of NBDA, highlighted that the issue of GMO safety had sparked controversy due to misinformation and misunderstanding.

Mustapha stressed that the aim of NBDA was to alleviate public concerns and dispel misinformation while promoting the advantages of GMO crops.

According to him, GMO crops have the potential to revolutionise food security and environmental safety, ensuring a good supply of food for future generations.

He assured Nigerians that GMOs were not harmful to human and animal environments, but were safe for consumption, thereby improving food security and reducing the use of harmful pest control methods.

Dr Khalid Ishiak, Acting Director General of NASC, affirmed that GMO technology had been certified by​ Nigerian scientists and the agency.

Ishiak urged Nigerians to believe in their technological advancements, emphasising the importance of self-reliance in food production.

He assured Nigerians that the technology had undergone thorough scrutiny, prioritising safety without compromising.

Dr Agnes Asagbra, Director General of NBMA, debunked the discouraging news reports on social media amidst food insecurity in Nigeria.

Asagbra also assured citizens that the government agencies were committed to ensuring the safety of Nigerian citizens.

According to her, NBMA is regulating biotechnology to ensure the safe practice of modern biotechnology, including GMO; and has ensured the safety of agri-biotechnology products, in collaboration with other Federal Government agencies to ensure comprehensive safety measures.

She reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to Nigerians on the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

“While concerns exist about long-term effects, the current scientific consensus supported by the NBMA is that GMO foods approved for consumption in Nigeria are safe.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety and responsible regulation of GMOs in Nigeria, according to Section 43 of the NBMA Act, 2015 as amended; GMOs are organisms living or non-living.

“This is because rigorous risk assessments guide our decisions; before granting approvals for any genetically modified organism (GMO), NBMA conducts rigorous risk assessments.”

Asagbra explained that GMOs were novel genetic material obtained through modern biotechnology which allowed the enhancement of crop traits, improved yields and addresses agricultural challenges.

“The NBMA is Nigeria’s sole authority on biosafety matters; we enforce standards, guidelines and risk assessment procedures for GMOs.

“Our commitment is rooted in the NBMA Act and its regulations.

“These assessments evaluate potential risks to human health, the environment and biodiversity, the process involves scientific experts who analyse data, conduct experiments and assess the safety of the GMO in question.

“NBMA considers factors such as allergenicity, toxicity, and unintended effects resulting from genetic modifications GMOs undergo thorough evaluation before approval.

“We consider their impact on human health, animal welfare and the environment; our goal is to strike a balance between innovation and safety.’’

According to her, public consultations, workshops and information dissemination play a crucial role to enable citizens to have the opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions.

“NBMA relies on scientific consensus to make informed decisions.

“This consensus is based on extensive research, peer-reviewed studies, and expert opinions; independent scientific bodies, both nationally and internationally, contribute to this consensus.’’

She said that NBMA did not stop at approval as it monitored GMOs even after they entered the market.

The NBMA boss said that surveillance systems tracked their impact on health, the environment and biodiversity.

“NBMA aligns its practices with global standards.

“It consults with international bodies, such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to harness the benefits of modern biotechnology,” Asagbra said.

By Tosin Kolade and Abigael Joshua

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