Environmental/ecological think tank and advocacy organisation, the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), has called on the House Committee on Environment and Habitat to dismiss the proposed bill to expand the scope of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act to include evolving aspects of biotechnology such as gene drives, gene editing and synthetic biology.
In a memorandum sent by HOMEF to the National Assembly on Friday, March 22, 2019, the not-for-profit group argued that Nigeria should not dabble into “these evolving aspects of biotechnology because we are still struggling with regulating the basic aspects of the technology – the first generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)”.
“Enlarging the scope of the NBMA Act to include evolving aspects of the applications of biotechnology is a tremendously dangerous proposal that would compound the risks already posed by the basic application of the first-generation technology. Including these applications in the Act indicates opening the doors to the products of these dangerous technologies,” declared HOMEF in the correspondence, which was endorsed by its director, Nnimmo Bassey.
Sponsored by Obinna Chidoka, Chairman, House Committee on Environment and Habitat, the Bill is for an Act to Amend the NBMA Act, 2015 to enlarge the scope of the application and include other evolving aspects of the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria with a view to preventing any adverse effect on human health and the environment; and for Related Matters.
A public hearing to that effect holds on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at the National Assembly, Abuja.
But Bassey, in the memorandum, insists that the use of gene drive organisms has potential of wiping off whole species of organisms.
He adds: “Gene drives are a genetic engineering tool that aim to force artificial genetic changes through entire populations of animals, insects and plants and unlike previous GMOs these gene drive organisms (GDOs) are deliberately designed to spread genetic pollution through generations of species. We note that this poses a severe threat to biodiversity, ecological systems and environmental sustainability.”
The memorandum further reads: “HOMEF believes that Nigeria is ill prepared to handle these extreme technologies. The fact that CRISPR/Cas9 in the Amendment Bill is written as CRISPR/cast9 and ZFN is referred to as ZFM suggests that the promoters of this Bill and extreme technologies may not have enough understanding of what they are pushing for. This is the more reason we must exercise caution.
“We agree that the NMBA Act which was established in 2015 needs amendment, but such amendment should be to protect the health, environment and economy of the Nigerian people and not to enlarge the avenue to be used for more risky experimentations.
“The NBMA Act, 2015 in its present form has flaws that must be addressed such as the absence of provisions for strict liability and redress which mandates that the biotechnology corporations take responsibility for immediate and forthcoming negative impacts of use of their products as is the case in a similar Act in Uganda.
“Since the NBMA Act came into force, applications for dealings with products of GMOs in Nigeria have been approved by the agency in an alarmingly fast rate, suggesting that scarce attention is given to the factful evidence on the risks associated with modern biotechnology.
“Our stand on this proposed bill is that the current regulatory system should first be strengthened. Or better still, we recommend an outright prohibition of the dangerous, evolving technology. An amendment of the Act to include evolving or extreme aspects of modern biotechnology will mean an unhindered movement of these products into Nigeria as the current biosafety regulatory agency acts as a promoter of the technology rather than an unbiased regulatory body.
“We ask Hon. Obinna Chidoka and other supporters of the NBMA Amendment Bill to call it off in consideration of the highlighted risks that adoption of extreme biotechnology poses to food webs, ecosystems, biodiversity, our national economy and overall human and environmental safety. Our focus should be on strengthening the present biosafety system, investing in research on agricultural systems that upholds indigenous knowledge, protects livelihoods and ensures food sovereignty.”