Dr Rufus Ebegba, the Director-General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) says the agency scrutinises all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) before permission is granted for use.
Ebegba said this in Abuja to clarify the process of the recent approval granted for the commercialisation of GMO Cowpea.
He said that the hallmark of the agency’s duties was ensuring safety of genetically modified foods and products to humans and the environment.
“Before any genetically modified product is granted approval status by the agency, two specific committees made up of professionals and experts from the academia, line government agencies, civil society groups and other stakeholders are constituted.
“These committees will painstakingly analyse the application and review the risk management and risk assessment plans before a decision is made.
“When an application either for importation of a GM seed or grain, or for the confined field trial/ commercial release of a crop is made to the agency, it is acknowledged and treated based on the NBMA Act 2015.’’
Ebegba said that public participation in the process of permit granting started with a publication of the application as public notice in three national dailies.
He said that the NBMA website to allowed members of the public to contribute to the discussion which could either be in support or against the application for a period of 21 days.
“The agency finally makes its decision after going through the recommendation of the ad-hoc committees, advising the agency to either grant or deny a permit, giving full consideration to safety issues to the environment, human health and socio-economic impact.
“The agency does not just process permits but looks critically at the application ensuring that the product does not or will not cause harm before granting approvals.’’
Ebegba said that the permit for the commercial release of the GM cotton was granted in 2016 after due diligence and the product was released under the watchful eyes of the agency.
“And what seemed like a very unpopular decision was applauded by the Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Science and Technology in a joint press conference two years later.
“The recent approval for the commercial release of GM cowpea went through the same safety procedures, taking into consideration safety of the environment which includes ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
“And in the area of safety to human health, the agency ensures that GMOs are not toxic to humans and that they do not cause allergies.
He said that the agency would continue to ensure that only safe GMOs would be allowed either for planting, consumption or processing in Nigeria.
“I once more advise super stores that import GM foods without permit to desist from such as we will not hesitate to shut down such stores.’’
He said that the agency would not hesitate to prosecute any violators of the NBMA Act and advised all those who intended to deal in GMOs to ensure they applied for a biosafety permit first.