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GMO food: Nigerians beware of misleading activism, By Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu

By News Express on 09/05/2017

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•GMO corn.
•GMO corn.

It has been globally recognised that the need for food security and improved agricultural system are paramount. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) further reaffirms this with its second goal which seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Since early 1900s, about 75 per cent of crop diversity has been lost from farmers’ fields. Fortunately, a good use of agricultural biodiversity can contribute to enhanced nutrition, better livelihoods for farming communities and more resilient and sustainable farming systems.

For Nigeria to be food sufficient, we must underscore the need for modern and climate-smart agricultural practices. The agricultural policy of the current administration – ‘The Green Alternative’ - emphasises on food security as one of the four thrusts, and recognises that agriculture is key to long-term economic growth and security. There is no doubt that the lack of food security is an underlining cause for some of the greatest challenges we face in the country today, such as the conflict between farmers and herdsmen.

In her speech on November 10, 2016, former Minister of Environment, Amina J Mohammed, stated that the Federal Government will welcome technology that will provide safe and adequate food for Nigerians, in furtherance to its commitment to zero hunger, hence the signing of the historic Paris Agreement by the President and the establishment of the National Bio-safety Management Agency (NBMA) to enable Nigerians benefit maximally from the practice of safe modern biotechnology.  Prof Lucy Ogbadu rightly commented that by having a bio-safety law in place, Nigeria has commenced a silent revolution  

Modern biotechnology is a tool in addressing challenges that have been difficult to resolve, using conventional approach, particularly in the improvement of agriculture, medicine, industrial growth and enhancing environmental sustainability. For instance, a year after the genetically modified friendly Aedes mosquitoes were launched in Piracicaba, Brazil, the Epidemiologic Surveillance service released new data which showed a 91 per cent reduction in Dengue fever cases in the CECAP/EI Dorado district. The latest data round-up also reports zero cases of Zika and Chikungunya in CECAP/Eldorado. It is science that rules the world and Nigeria cannot afford to be isolated from the trend.

Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as (if not safer than) those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.

The worldwide scientific consensus on the safety of genetic engineering is as solid as that which underpins human-caused global warming. Yet, this basic truth on GMOs, that they’re as safe as conventionally cultivated food, is ignored when ideological interests are threatened. The suspicion often caused by the anti-globalisation activists against GMO crops (but not GMO processed foods like cheese and beer or medical applications like insulin and many new drugs) paradoxically reinforced, an “environmentally justified” set of regulatory hurdles, which only large companies can afford.

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of campaign by anti-GMO activists - against modern biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria - creating fears in the minds of Nigerians. Organisations opposed to modern plant breeding have repeatedly denied these facts and opposed biotechnological innovations in agriculture. They have misrepresented their risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the cancellation of permits granted to Monsanto, criminal destruction of approved field-trials and research projects, and continuous demand for the repeal of the Bio-safety Act.

Let us, at this juncture, recall that Nigeria signed and ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety (CPB), in 2000 and 2003 respectively. The objective of the protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection of human health and biodiversity from potential risks of modern biotechnological practices. Parties to the protocol are required to domesticate the protocol through administrative and legal frame work. In this regard, Nigeria came up with the National Bio-safety Management Agency Act 2015, which heralds the National Bio-safety Management Agency. The insinuation by anti-GMOs campaigners that the Act was rushed is far from the truth. The process began in 2002, and those making insinuations were involved in the review process. It was duly passed initially in 2011 and again in 2015, before it was assented to on April 18, 2015.

The African Union (AU) Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology adopted bio-safety and biotechnology for economic development in Africa. To assist member countries to develop bio-safety capacity, the AU-NEPAD Agency established the African Bio-safety Network of Experts (ABNE). The ABNE, since 2010, has supported Nigeria in various capacity-building programmes. ECOWAS on its part is currently developing common bio-safety regulations for the sub-region, and Nigeria has made some inputs into it.

Nigeria also has a National Biotechnology Policy to promote biotechnology in the country. The National Biotechnology Agency (NABDA), which is under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, was established in 2001 to implement the policy. There are also research institutions, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, universities and private sector organisations involved in biotechnological activities.

With these frameworks in place, Nigeria has strategically placed itself in the forefront of science and technology to re-double its efforts in acquisition of the capacity for the judicious utilisation of all the tools of modern biotechnology, to confront the challenges of the changing world.

It could be reiterated that in a statement issued by Alhaji Isiaka Yusuf of Federal Ministry of Environment in Abuja (on 20th June, 2016), the former Minister, Amina Mohammed, stated that the National Bio-safety Management Agency, established in 2015, under the Federal Ministry of Environment, was charged to, among others, ensure proper regulation of modern biotechnological activities and genetically modified organisms, so as to protect the lives of Nigerians. According to her, with the Act in place, Nigeria has taken laudable strides in order to adopt the necessary legal bio-safety framework and policy, bearing in mind that if Nigeria gets it right, it will guide other African countries.

Furthermore, she noted that the quest for Nigeria’s biotechnological advancement dates back to 2001, when the country adopted a National Biotechnology policy and subsequently established the National Biotechnology Development Agency, adding that over 20 research institutes, private biotechnology firms and universities are also players in the biotechnology sector. She stated that the agency is not working alone, as it is partnering with critical stakeholders, such as the Nigerian Customs, the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps (NCDC), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Ministry of Justice, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, National Seed Council, science- and regulatory-based institutions, the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) and African Bio-safety Network of Expertise, among others.

The NBMA has the onerous task of ensuring that potential impacts of the GMO on human or animal health, the environment and the socio-economic effects are carefully weighed, and the risk assessment fully carried out before being released, she disclosed. She enjoined the citizenry to co-operate with the Federal Government in its quest to diversify the Nigerian economy for the present and future generations, adding: “Nigerians should be rest assured of the protection of their health and environment by the National Bio-safety Management Agency.”

Nigerians, therefore, should be warned that the indecent and incessant clamour for the abrogation of the Bio-safety Act by some pressure groups is not only anti-government, but also most illegal and enough reason to attract government sanction; as we should be responsible for our actions and utterances. It should be vehemently stated at this point, that outright opposition to new farm science is directly contributing to continued growth of poverty and hunger. It is science that rules the world, and Nigeria cannot afford to be isolated from the trend.

Agbaegbu, Executive Director Every Woman’s Hope Centre, a Nigeria-based NGO and publishers of Lifecare Magazine, can be reached at ewhcnigeria@gmail.com

Source News Express

Posted 09/05/2017 12:28:04 PM

 

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