Chemical companies’ interest, trade war responsible for GMO controversies ― DG, NBMA

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Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba, has said the controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMO), would continue to trail the sector and conversations around it because vested interest in the agricultural sector risks losing out in their contracts for chemicals used for pesticides and others.

Ebegba said this Monday at the Validation of the National Biosafety Guidelines on GM plants with stacked genes.

Ebegba noted that genetically modified plants are disease resistant and thus reduce the use of chemicals to make the plants survive such challenges.

He said there is no record of danger associated with released or approved GMO products because they are thoroughly investigated, researched and tested lasting up to a decade and even beyond in some cases before public release.

According to him, farmers who would deploy GMO products to their farms would be the greatest beneficiaries of the genetically modified plants which are designed to adapt to the environment and fight diseases and pests.

‘’I can tell you one thing that the GMOs are some of the best-regulated products in the world, no genetically modified organisms that are the least have not undergone a process of between 11 to 13 years before it’s been brought out, to confirm to be safe.

‘’The issue of whether GMOs are safe or not safe. Most of these are based on an assumption or based on imagination because if you look at what the World Health Organization and FAO said about GMOs, they are very clear. And so far, all the GMOs that have been released in the world, none really has been said to cause any harm, that is true, let us know to hide away from it.

‘’And there is a need for us to understand these issues too, that there is a trade war going on.

‘’Because in a situation where a crop that has been using chemicals over the years and suddenly chemicals are not going to be used anymore. You should understand that the chemical companies will never be comfortable with that.

‘’Those who are saying GMOs are not safe. When they go to America, they go there and eat GMOs and come to Nigeria and say GMOs are not safe.

‘’We are not saying that GMOs may not be it depends on the modification purpose. But I can tell you that all GMOs will have produced in this country or imported into this country. We shall do what is called safety, due diligence and we will not allow any GMO enter the Nigerian market and the Nigerian environment.”

He said the court judgement which favoured the Agency over GMO was an attestation of the capacity of the agency and her commitment to the Nigerian people.

Meanwhile, a group of NGOs, HOMEF and 16 other civil society organizations, had taken the agency to court in 2017 and filed suit when the NBMA issued a permit for the commercial release of Bt cotton in Nigeria.

They claimed that the permits were issued on a non-business day and a public holiday. They also maintained that issuing the permits to both Monsanto and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) constituted a threat to the fundamental human rights of the general public and a breach of the 1999 constitution as amended in 2011.

However, on July 20th, the suit was struck out when Justice A.R. Mohammed determined it was statute barred and the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain it.

As explained by the DG, the matter was instituted over a year after the cause of action and it was not a fundamental rights issue, as claimed by the plaintiffs.

He said Nigerians should side with the agency established to ensure the safety of Nigerians in the deployment and use of GMO, more so that the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency has been adjudged the best in the African continent.

The validation meeting which had 20 local and international stakeholders in attendance validated the national guideline which Ebegba noted has been interrogated and certified by experts in the continent and the world in biosafety.

Dr Mathew Dore who joined the meeting virtually said the initiative was commendable especially as Nigeria was prepared to safeguard the people and the environment as it explores the benefit of the technology on genetically modified organisms.