Nigeria: Stuck at crossroads of GMO for industrial growth, food security

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In April this year (2019) at a training organised for some journalists in Lagos, an acclaimed professor of food science and technology in one of the universities in South West Nigeria, made some startling revelations. Notable in his presentation was the assertion that Nigerians have been consuming GMO food for decades, and it has already evolved into our primary food production, thereby suggesting there is hardly non-GMO food being cultivated again. Shocking it sounded, as journalists took turns to gasp in surprise, and at other times, chorused their sounds of surprise in unison.

According to the professor, said to have a wealth of knowledge in Biotechnology, “have you noticed tomatoes nowadays no longer contain as much water and seeds, like the ones available when we were growing up.” To conclude this, he said “don’t you all know it is because GMO seeds had been introduced at some point, and that is why our tomatoes contain more pulp and little to no seeds.”

He did not stop there, other instances (and insinuations) included Maize, but not the bio-fortification aspect of it, rather, the fact that the “colour of maize has evolved from white to yellow.” The professor, with his years of research and wealth of knowledge is supposed to know a lot, perhaps, better than most people. However, some of the claims seemed not just far off, but also like excerpts from a conspiracy theory book published to scare food-loving people.

Elementary agriculture taught grafting and budding, one of several ‘less-invasive’ techniques used to improve plant varieties. A plant with desirable attributes in taste, appearance or even disease resistance, when grafted or budded onto another, is expected to ‘transfer some of this desirable DNA’. There could also be good old selection, like in the case of white … Read More...

‘GMO foods not allowed in Nigeria without labelling’

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The fear, real or imagined, of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) based food in Nigeria, appears to have been heightened in recent time, particularly with the widely reported permit granted for cultivation of GM beans. Rufus Ebegba, director general, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), addressed some of these concerns in an exclusive interview with Caleb Ojewale, highlighting processes in place to detect unapproved GMO and ensure they are not consumed.

What has the agency been doing to regulate GMO food in Nigeria?

The National Biosafety Management Agency was established in the year 2015. Our purpose is to ensure that the activities of modern biotechnology and the use of its products that are genetically modified do not have any adverse effect on the environment and human health.

The agency has the mandate to regulate genetic engineering and its products. In doing this, we look at safety from two angles, one, to the environment, and the other, to human health.

In the area of environment, we make sure that any genetically modified organism, before it can be confirmed safe for any purpose, will not cause harm to the environment. We ensure living organisms in the area it will be deployed will not be threatened, and for the genetically modified organisms not to become dominant or invasive that it causes total eradication of other living organisms.

Also, if the genetic modification is for specific target, it must not go beyond that target. For instance, if it is for insect or pest resistance, it must not affect other insects but specific to that particular insect posing a threat to it. Also, we ensure genetically modified organisms do not become super organisms that will now make other organisms uncomfortable or even human beings. We also look at the safety … Read More...