Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu

How Nigerians can be protected from illegal bio-tech

As Nigeria looks for safe and innovative ways to meet its food security needs, the recourse to Biotechnology and the capacity of the country’s existing laws to properly regulate this technology has once again come under scrutiny.

 

In 2001, under the Ministry of Science and Technology, the federal government developed a National Biotechnology Policy to promote biotechnology. The signing of the National Biosafety Agency Bill into law on April 2015, by the former President Goodluck Jonathan added Nigeria in the league of nations that legally practice modern agricultural biotechnology.

The National Biosafety Act is crucial in the management of modern biotechnology in the country, and signing the bill into law allows the domestication of the technology in Nigeria and enables the nation to utilise this cutting edge technology to create more employment, boost food production, that will put a smile on the faces of farmers, elevate hunger and ultimately enhance economic development.
Biosafety means ensuring safety in the applications of modern biotechnology and use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), and the signing of the biosafety bill into law provides the legal framework to check the activities of this technology locally as well as imported GM crops into the country. It also provides an avenue to engage Nigerian scientists/experts from different fields to identify and pursue solutions to our local challenges.
However, this development was received with mixed feelings as some Nigerians feel the nation is not yet ripe for the domestication of this technology, citing health and environmental concerns as their reason.
Though no adverse effect has been recorded via the application of modern biotechnology in other advanced countries that are already utilising it, the Federal Government of Nigeria in its wisdom established a biosafety regulatory agency, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), to ensure safe application of this new technology in the nation.
The Act established the NBMA charged with the responsibility of providing regulatory framework, institutional and administrative mechanism for safety measures in the application of modern bio-technology in Nigeria with the view to preventing any adverse effect on human health, animals, plants and environment.
The coming in of the NBMA under an Act strengthens government’s position under a legal framework to achieve the important goal of using this technology as a tool. So, in actual sense the NBMA is the safety valve that the federal government has adopted to ensure that the practice of modern biotechnology in Nigeria is safe.
The process of the development of the Biosafety Act followed a systematic public involvement from 2002 to 2015, and the National Biosafety Management Act 2015 prescribes procedures for the application of modern technology, risk assessment before the adoption and use of any genetically modified organisms, and penalties for contravening the Biosafety Act.
Since its establishment in 2015, the NBMA takes its role as the biotechnology regulatory body very seriously and has already developed various regulatory instruments as well as laying down framework to ensure safe application of the technology in Nigeria.
The agency’s activities include surveying, tracking and profiling of GMO’s in Nigeria; enlightenment of the public on biosafety matters; consultation with sister regulatory agencies for partnership; development and reviewing of national biosafety regulations and guidelines and capacity building and training of staff of the agency.
Prior to the National Biosafety Law in Nigeria, there were GMO suspects which made their way into the Nigerian market through the nation’s porous borders from countries like America and Brazil, who are already consuming GMO products, but with the advent of the regulatory body one of its first assignments was to issue a moratorium to such companies, individuals or institutions dealing in unapproved modern biotechnology activities in the country to formalise their dealings with it to ensure that they’re suitable for our environment and health system.
To make sure this assignment is carried out effectively, the agency established a national biosafety lab for GM detection and analysis to ensure that all GMOs are properly analysed to prevent any adverse effect on environment and human health.
Apart from registering GMO products in the country, the agency has also gone ahead to accredit qualified institutes to carryout modern biotechnology activities in the country.
Five institutes have already gotten approval from the agency to engage in biotechnology activities; they include the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike; Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria; Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA); National Cereals Research Institute Badeggi and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Abuja.
The agency has also shown its determination to make sure that Nigeria fully adheres to the tenets of the biosafety law which recognizes the complex issues to be addressed by Central Authorities in the judicious application of Modern Biotechnology; it bases the deliberate release of GMO on Advance Informed Agreement (AIA)”.
Biosafety Law defines offences and penalty for violation of the act; contains powers to authorize release of GMOs and practice of modern biotechnology activities and confers the power to carry out risk assessment/management before the release, handling and use of GMOs,
It also covers all genetically modified organisms/Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) and products thereof including food/feed and processing, and socio-economic consideration in risk assessment.
The agency has at various fora’s assured Nigerians that the law will also promote active commercialization of the research and development projects in our various universities and research institutes hence improving our economy as well as support the country to become one of the leaders in biotechnology, particularly in Africa.
The NBMA has proven that it has the capacity to give Nigeria the desired holistic biosafety in a transparent manner, so that the nation can benefit from modern biotechnology maximally without compromising safety to the environment and human health.

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