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Govt-approved GMOs are safe, says biosafety agency

The Director-General, National Biosafety Ma­nagement Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba, has urged Nigerians to trust the Federal Gover­nment’s adoption of gen­etically modified organisms (GMOs) that have be­en certified safe by the agency.

Rufus Ebegba
Director-General, National Biosafety Ma¬nagement Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba

Ebegba said this during the End of Year Media Chat organised by the agency in Abuja on Thursday, December 19, 2019.

The director-general was speaking aga­inst the backdrop of the Federal Government’s recent approval of the PBR co­wpea variety for commercialisation.

The approval was gra­nted by the National Committee on Naming, Registration, and Release of Crop Vari­eties.

The new cowpea varie­ty was developed by scientists at the Ins­titute for Agricultu­ral Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in collabor­ation with other partners under the coordi­nation of the African Agricultural Techn­ology Foundation.

“We have granted the approval of two cro­ps – that is, the genet­ically modified cott­on, and cowpea, which is beans for commerc­ial release.

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“Though these seeds are not yet in the commercial level in the market, they are still be­ing developed and mu­ltiplied for use by the permit boarder.

“We have already conf­irmed this product safe, and I think Nige­ria should trust the government.

“If you continue to doubt government agencies and government positi­ons, we would not go anywhere.

“The govern­ment has a responsib­ility to the citizens and the people al­so have a responsibi­lity to the governme­nt, to encourage the government and tho­se who are running the affairs of govern­ment.

“We need a situation where we have patrio­tism at the back of our minds.

“We have a country that is ind­eed envied by so many, but we need to make that commitment and that commitment is what the NBMA is making to the people of Nigeria.”

He said that the agency would continue to “hold trust” for Nigerians to ensure that only safe GMOs were approved for use in the country.

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Ebegba added that the agency would constantly monitor the products to ensure that standards were met, stating that the Act establishing the agency “is clear on holding anybody” who gave false information about the GMOs liable.

In response to a question on how the agency would monitor adherence to standards, the NBMA chief assured Nigerians that the agency would continue to monitor the impa­ct the developer has claimed, such as the level of the yield of the cowpea and cotton.

“From time to time we will go around with forms to interview farmers and dealers to really know if there are economic benefits as well.

“We will also collect the seeds and analyse them to see whether there are new manifestations,” he said, adding that monitoring would be done administratively, te­chnically, and scient­ifically.

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The director-general, who noted that capacity building had an important role to play in effective monitoring, said that staff of the agency had been trained and retrained within and outside the country with support from international partners.

He added that as part of efforts to expand monitoring and surveillance, the agency had signed various memoranda of understanding with some sister agencies such as the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, and National Seed Council.

Others are Varietal Release Committee and the Department of Veterinary and Pest Control Services under the Ministry of Agriculture.

Ebegba said that the agency had not been resting on its oars in ensuring that only approved genetically modified seeds and grains for food and feed processing were allowed in the Nigerian market.

He said that the agency was able to achieve that by constant upgrading of its genetically modified detection and analysis labs and constant inspection of GMO facilities, confined field trial sites, and multi- location trial sites. 

By Okeoghene Akubuike

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