CONFIRMED GM PRODUCTS ARE CONSIDERED AS SAFE -DR. RUFUS EBEGBA - Living Environment

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Monday, January 25, 2021

CONFIRMED GM PRODUCTS ARE CONSIDERED AS SAFE -DR. RUFUS EBEGBA

The National Biosafety Management Agency is charged with the mandate to manage Biosafety matters in Nigeria. It is saddled with the responsibility of providing regulatory framework, institutional and administrative mechanism for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria. The main objective of the NBMA is to ensure high level of protection in the field by safe transfer, Handling and Using of genetic modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that could have adverse impact on conservation and sustainable use of Biodiversity taking into account risks to human health.

In view of this, Living Environment Magazine’s Reporter Ada Achanya interviewed the Director General/ Chief Executive Officer of the National Biosafety Management Agency Dr. Rufus Ebegba on the positive impact of Biosafety to our life as humans.

Excerpts:

Sir, your agency is strategically positioned for the safety of human and the environment, can you throw more light on this?

In essence the agency has the responsibility to ensure that the modern biotechnology is not harmful to the environment and to human health. 
In 2019 there was an amendment of National Biosafety Management Agency Acts including giving additional responsibility to the agency in the area of putting in place measures to ensure biosecurity.
Biosecurity is a situation of managing biological agents particularly the ones that are harmful, to ensure that they are not harmful to the environment and human health. 
And in the human aspects as well, measures are being put in place to make sure biological agents that are harmful are properly curtail or eliminated.

The Agency have created a new biosecurity department, what is their function to the agency, society and the environment?

Yes, the newly created biosecurity department to implement the newly amended Acts which says that “Agency shall put in place measures to ensure biosecurity”.
So, that department sole responsibility is to implement that particular Acts as amended in the by-laws, ensuring all laws, regulations and guidelines that pertains to biosecurity are adequately implemented or issues of biosecurity are properly managed to ensure that biological agents do not affect the environment.
Thus, the agency will only allow the safe genetically modified organisms into the environment for human consumption or any other purposes.

Sir, we are meant to understand that your office signed MoU with NAFDAC, SON, and Customs on importation of safe GMO, so how can one identify GM food because others still want to consume organic food?

Yes, the assessment is true, we signed MoU with NAFDAC, Customs and SON, these MoU are to ensure synergy of experienced Bodies or Units, so that the agency can tap into their experience and enjoy some of the facilities these agencies have to make them more effective and avoid overlap or malfunctions.

Permit has been granted to Rice that are genetically modified for effective yield in the area of enhancing the use of planting rice in the area that have critical issues like low water level, low nitrogen level, so that without these nutrients, the rice will still grow very well.

Also, we understand that the effects of climate change and its impact on our environment and farm produce, how can the application of this technology help to boost Nigeria food security?

The issue of climate change and its major impact has been manifested by what we are seeing. High temperature, increase in desertification, increase in water body level or diseases prevalent, they are all factors that influence climate change.
GMO can increase food security, and there’s no doubt that technology actually is to improve human existence and also to enhance higher productivity with genetic engineering.
These activities has been confirmed safe are been used to produce products that are more useful, for instance, enhance productivity for farmers, good inputs such as good seed, vibrate seeds are used and so on. So modern biotechnology enhances higher productivity.

So, is this technology environmentally friendly?

Yes, for now, it is logical to assess that the genetically modified organism that has been approved is environmentally friendly and probably foster green economy.

With these developments, how many GM products have been given permits by your agency?

The agency has given permits for few of these crops. For example, confirm field trial to genetically modified beans which has move to commercialization. We also granted commercialization for cowpea.
Initially, cowpea started in Nigeria at the level of confirm field trial and professional trial but now it is confirmed as commercialization.
Also, permit has been granted to Rice that are genetically modified for effective yield in the area of enhancing the use of planting rice in the area that have critical issues like low water level, low nitrogen level, so that without these nutrients, the rice will still grow very well.
Normally, Rice does not tolerate salt but the genetically modified rice does, it also has 3 core objectives, water use efficiency, energy use efficiency and also salt use tolerance efficiency and all of it.
The agency has also granted permit for cassava which is under field trial which is rich in iron content and there are other ones too increasing in nitrogen content and also permit for sodium for the availability to some nutrient, in the area of iron and zinc that is for the institute of agricultural research Zaria.
 Other permits also were granted to other field trial that would be concluded through commercialization permit that was granted for cowpea, Bt cotton and we understand the importance of cotton for our National Economy especially for our textile industry.
Permit for the importation of genetically modified maize and soya beans for field, food and processing was granted, these are some of the crops we have granted permits, we are hoping more applicants will come in and those permits will be looked at critically and when you are granting permits, it goes through processes, it is not something you just find in applications.
We Nigerians must trust government because there is no government in the world that will give to its citizens what is not right. Concerning the issue of GMO they said are harmful, this is not true. All GMO that has been approved globally and in Nigeria are confirmed safe for consumption. Some people go about saying government institutions cannot confirm GMO to be safe, so they rather use cut and paste approaches to misinform Nigerians.
Nigerians should also trust government institutions especially NBMA that is here to ensure that GMO are safe for the environment and the market, all that they granted permits are very safe.
Finally, there’s a trade war going on but Nigeria will not participate in that trade war, in a situation where an organism is now self-protective resisting diseases and pest, we don’t need chemicals because some of these activities are connected with the bias in the mind of Nigerians those who are collaborating with multinational agro-chemicals.

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