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NBMA tackles NAFDAC over criticism of GMO consumption in Nigeria

The Director General of the Nigeria Biotechnology Management Agency (NBMA), Agnes Asagbra, has kicked against the disapproval of genetically engineered food by the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Mojisola Adeyeye.

On 29 June, the NAFDAC boss, during an interview on Arise News Television, argued that GMO foods in Nigeria are not safe for consumption due to insufficient research and data at their disposal.

“In terms of GMOs, we do not think it is safe. We don’t think it is safe for our consumption (that is the position of NAFDAC). Exactly! First, a lot of research has not been done in terms of the safety of GMO products and the genetics of the seeds have been modified. Until we get very convincing data to show the safety for human consumption,” Mrs Adeyeye said.

However, the NAFDAC boss noted that GMOs could be used for non-food crops such timber, furniture, and for rubber plantation but maintained that there is no evidence from NAFDAC that it is safe for human consumption.

In reaction to the NAFDAC official’s claims, Mrs Asagbra in a letter dated 2 July and seen by PREMIUM TIMES, described the comments of the NAFDAC boss as one that can undermine the mandate and functions of the NBMA.

“The views you expressed appear to discredit the hard work and integrity of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and its several renowned stakeholders and experts for which your Agency is one,” the letter partly reads.

Mrs Asagbra emphasised that the NBMA is a legally constituted Nigerian agency established to regulate the approval and safe use of all genetically modified organisms in the country.

Additionally, she said the organisation has the mandate to provide a regulatory framework, institutional and administrative mechanism for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology and emerging modern biotechnologies in Nigeria with the view to preventing any adverse effects on human health, animal, plants, and the environment as well as to put in place measures to ensure biosecurity.

“It is completely misleading for the Director General of NAFDAC to categorically state on National Television that GMOs are not safe, having admitted that her Agency has not carried out research, does not have the competency and of course, does not have the mandate to carry out any study to determine GMOs’ safety.

“At NBMA, we strongly uphold and cherish inter-agency collaborations for effective biosafety management in Nigeria,” the letter reads.

“NBMA values this collaborative relationship with NAFDAC and other relevant regulatory agencies and stakeholders and has strived to maintain a partnership based on mutual respect and shared goals,” the letter noted.

According to the NBMA boss, Mrs Adeyeye’s comments have severely discredited the public’s perception of GMO technology.

“It is indisputable that the public’s perception of the Agency and that of the Federal government of Nigeria’s position has been severely discredited by this falsehood from a purported sibling agency, intentionally or unintentionally casting aspersion on its credibility and effectiveness,” she said.

“To put it mildly, NBMA is worried about the possible effects this might have on the trust of the stakeholders we work with,” she said, adding “Based on the foregoing, I earnestly call on the DG of NAFDAC to as a matter of urgency admit and recant this glaring gap in knowledge and position of the Federal Government of Nigeria in the regulation of the practices of modern biotechnology and handling of GMO related matters by NBMA in collaboration with other relevant Agencies in Nigeria.”

She argued that the clarification will go a long way in addressing the obvious misconception and misrepresentation that the NAFDAC boss’s statements in the interview might have caused.

The NAFDAC boss’ remarks about GMO technology have attracted widespread criticism from Pro-GMO institutions such as the NBMA and others in the country, who have in the past decade argued that GMO crop adoption is capable of solving food insecurity issues in the country.

The debate over GMO adoption in Nigeria has been highly contentious, creating fears among citizens about how safe GMOs are for humans and the environment.

Some environmentalists have argued that the move to commercialise GMO seeds would have far-reaching consequences in Nigeria and across Africa.

Aside from health and environmental concerns, critics of GMO technology in Nigeria say it violates the principles of “food sovereignty” and are worried over the ability to effectively regulate and label genetically engineered foods, especially the newly commercialised Tela maize.

There is also concern that GM seeds are often patent-locked and privatised, which could weaken the position of African farmers and communities, and also enhance the depletion of indigenous/conventional seed banks in the continent.

By implication, experts say, farmers across Nigeria and Africa at large would have to perpetually depend on GM seed manufacturers for seeds to grow some of the crops.

Environmental think tanks like the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and other groups and food experts have called for extensive research into the pros and cons of GMOs before their commercialisation in the country.

Amidst these concerns, the Acting Director General of the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), Khalid Ishiak, confirmed that 40 metric tons of Tela maize are within Nigeria for farmers at the moment.

He emphasised that the notion that seeds from harvested GMO materials cannot be replanted is incorrect.

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