Globally, modern biotechnology is recognised as having an enormous potential to meet needs for food, agriculture and health care. There is also the intense necessity to protect human health and the environment from the possible adverse effects of the products of modern biotechnology.
These opposite sides of the same coin, among other issues, spurred the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992 which 195 countries are party to. The Convention is the main international instrument for addressing biodiversity issues. It provides a holistic approach to the conservation of biological diversity, the viable use of natural resources and the equitable sharing of benefits deriving from the use of genetic resources. Biosafety is one of the issues addressed by the Convention.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) stemmed from the CBD. The Protocol was internationally adopted in 2000 and officially implemented by Nigeria in 2003. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living/genetically modified organisms (LMOs/GMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking into account risks to human health. It was adopted on 29th January 2000 and entered into force on 11th September 2003.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the foundation on which Nigeria’s biosafety system was built. After several years of debates and deliberations by stakeholders, failure of the 6th National Assembly to promptly pass the Biosafety bill for assent by the President and pressure from several interest groups, the bill passed through three public readings at the 7th National Assembly by Resolution and Concurrence. It was agreed upon without amendments to the draft bill passed by the 6th National Assembly.
Former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, signed the National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015 (NBMA Act 2015) into law on April 20, 2015. This law regulates the practice of modern biotechnology and the handling and use of its products (GMOs) in Nigeria. The signing of the law made provision for the establishment of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).
The proficient implementation of the NBMA Act 2015 has seen the establishment and growth of a National Biosafety Authority that certifies the safety of the products of modern biotechnology and allows the safe practice and research of modern biotechnology to flourish in Nigeria.
Since the establishment of the Agency in 2015, it has continuously supervised the modern biotechnology research activities of agricultural institutes across the country, assessed the safety of genetically modified foods (GM foods) in stores across the country, processed applications for the importation of genetically modified seeds by utilising risk assessments, and signed agreements with line Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government to institutionalise the biosafety system.
Although there was an unusual delay in the implementation of the CPB in Nigeria, it has continued to be administered. The future of safe modern biotechnology practice and use in the country appears to be bright because there is a regulatory system in place.
By Adanna Mgbojikwe