The Director General/Chief Executive Officer of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Dr Rufus Ebegba has said that the hallmark of the Agency’s duties is ensuring safety of genetically modified foods and products to humans and the environment.

Dr Ebegba in a statement to clarify the process of granting approvals for Genetically Modified Organisms today (31/JAN/2019), said 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 to painstakingly analyse the application and review the risk management and risk assessment plans before a decision is made.

Dr Ebegba said 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.

Public participation in the process of permit granting starts with a publication of the application as public notice in three national dailies and the NBMA website to allow members of the public to contribute to the discussion which can 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 socioeconomic impact.

Dr Ebegba said looking at the process it is clear that 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.

The permit for the commercial release of the GM cotton was granted in 2016 after due diligence and this 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 to the environment which includes ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

In the area of safety to human health, the Agency ensures that GMOs are not toxic to humans and that they do not cause and allergies.

He averred that the Agency will continue to ensure that only safe GMOs will be allowed either for planting, consumption or processing in Nigeria as the Agency has full structural and human capacity to ensure the safety of genetically modified organisms in Nigeria.

He also touched on the process of development of GMOs through modern biotechnology and assured that the application of modern biotechnology will be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure that the NBMA Act is followed through.

He also stated the Agency will not hesitate to prosecute any violators of the NBMA Act and advised all those who intend to deal in GMOs must ensure they apply for a biosafety permit first.

He once more advised super stores that import GM foods without permit to desist from such as the Agency will not hesitate to shut down such super store.

Gloria Ogbaki

Head Press Unit

National Biosafety Management Agency