The raised voices against biotechnology and genetically modified organisms foods could drown the benefits they provide to the environment and human health. For instance, scientists are developing GM crops that are resistant to flood, drought, and cold, which improves agricultural resistance to climate change. Besides, the federal government established the National Biosafety Management Agency to effectively regulate modern biotechnology for the benefit of Nigerians.

Recently in Abuja, a group adverse to what they perceive as the dire environmental and health impart of genetically modified organism foods (GMOs), took their protest to the National Assembly. There is palpable fear among members of the group that the nation does not have enough scientists competent in that field to keep the population health and the environment safe.

Genetic engineering…

“Genetically Modified Organism” has been described as “a non-scientific and confusing term used widely in popular media to refer to plants and animals improved through techniques of modern biotechnology and to distinguish them from crops and livestock.”

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) offers this definition: “Genetically engineered/modified organisms, and products thereof, are produced through techniques in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”

GMOs and the environment…

Scientists in favour of genetic modification have determined that it has good effects on the environment.

They explained that “In order to feed a world population that is expected to top 9 billion by 2050 and to do so in ways that do not harm the environment, farmers will need to roughly double current production levels on about the same amount of land. “Genetically modified crops are more efficient and therefore use less agricultural inputs to produce the same amount of food.

The global hectarage of biotech crops has increased 100-fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015 by up to 17 to 18 million farmers – this makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. This impressive adoption rate speaks for itself, in terms of its sustainability, resilience and the significant benefits it delivers to both small and large farmers as well as consumers.

“GM technology reduced pesticide use by 50% in the period from 1996 – 2015. Because genetically modified crops require less ploughing and chemical usage, GM technology can reduce fossil fuel and CO2 emissions. Genetic engineering can therefore help to ameliorate the effects of agriculture on the environment.”

According to these scientists, “Farming accounted for 24 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 and 70 per cent of freshwater use. Additionally, scientists are developing GM crops that are resistant to flood, drought, and cold, which improves agricultural resistance to climate change. GM crops also allow for greater use of no-till cultivation, which helps with carbon sequestration, soil erosion prevention, and better soil fertility.”

FG’s regulation…

The federal government desires food security and understands the adverse environmental effect of aggressive agriculture, as well as the delicateness of genetic engineering. For this reason, it set up the National Biosafety Management Agency to keep an eye on things.

Former Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, during the 2nd edition of the National Biosafety Conference, last November said the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) is adequately positioned to carry out risk assessments on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) currently under trial in the country.

“Nigerians should be rest assured of the protection of their health and the environment by the National Biosafety Management Agency on matters concerning GMOs.

The Agency is here to safeguard the health of all Nigerians, taking into consideration national interest, socio-economic issues, human health and safety to the environment.

“Let me assure you that the President is committed to ensuring food security. This can be seen from the recent signing of the historic Paris Agreement by the President. In furtherance, of this commitment to zero hunger, the government will welcome technology that will provide safe and adequate food for Nigerians, hence the Government established the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to enable Nigerians benefit maximally from the practice of safe modern Biotechnology.

“Essentially, the Agency is charged with responsibility for proving the regulatory, institutional and administrative framework and mechanisms for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria. This is to ensure the safe practice of modern biotechnology and, use and handling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to avert adverse impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, considering risk to human health.

“With the creation of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act, Nigeria has joined the league of countries in Africa with Biosafety laws and Agencies, these include South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Sudan, Ghana, Cameron amongst others.

Amina Mohammed, who is now the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said “NBMA has capable Biosafety regulatory personnel (scientists), who are well trained within and outside the country to effectively carry out its regulatory functions and has well equipped laboratory to detect any smallest genes in GMOs. The Agency also carries out risk assessments on GMO’s currently under trial in the country.

“Nigerians should be rest assured of the protection of their health and the environment by the National Biosafety Management Agency on matters concerning GMOs. We hear and we will do.”

The environment ministry, she said was working in partnership with other line Ministries and Agencies, State governments, Non-Governmental Organisations, Youths, Women and Farmers Associations and the international community in line with the United Nations Convention to protect the environment. “These partnerships are important if we are to succeed in ensuring food security.”

The Agency’s position…

The Director General/Chief Executive Officer, National Biosafety Management Agency, Dr. Rufus Ebegba said, “There are myriads of critical global challenges, which also affect Nigeria. Addressing these challenges requires adoption of out of the box workable measures and safe technologies.

Technologies that would foster green economy by reducing and eliminating the factors that contribute to climate change and mitigate the impacts of climate change, ensure conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity; as well as provide food security for the enhancement of the well-being of citizens are of national priority.

Obviously, advancements in technologies are usually characterized by some potential adverse impacts and modern biotechnology is not an exception in this regard.

“It is in this context that Biosafety has become a means of addressing potential adverse impacts of modern technology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity taking into account risks to human health.”

Ebegba said the NBMA was established by the National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015. “As a regulatory agency, our major function is to regulate modern biotechnology sector in Nigeria to ensure that the technology does not produce harmful effects to human health and the environment.

The National Biosafety Management Agency has the mandate to manage Biosafety matters in Nigeria. It is therefore charged with the responsibility of providing regulatory framework, and institutional and administrative mechanisms for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria, with a view to preventing any adverse effects on human health, animals, plants and environment.”

Future of genetic engineered crops…

According to Dr. Abdulrazak B Ibrahim of the Department of Biochemistry, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, “The debate on GE crops will be over in the next few years and most countries of the world, including European nations, where the loudest critics of the technology come from, would have completely accepted it. It is fundamentally important that Nigeria prepares and develop this technology using its indigenous human and financial resources to effectively address the imminent food security problem the country may face.”

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