THE STATE OF BIOSAFETY IN NIGERIA –PRESS BRIEFING BY DG/CEO
I am delighted to welcome you all gentlemen of the press to this press briefing. It has indeed been a while since we last met to discuss issues of biosafety in Nigeria.
A lot has happened recently in the relation to biosafety in Nigeria and these happenings have warranted the need for me to call you all to brief you and bring you up to speed with the correct state of affairs as it relates to the state of Biosafety in the country.
A lot of misinformation has been going round the public especially in the media space as some people have taken it upon themselves to misinform Nigerians and backlash the Agency for doing its job and fulfilling its mandate of managing biosafety matters in Nigeria.
It is important to state here that the NBMA is charged with the responsibility of providing regulatory framework and institutional and administrative mechanism for safety measures in the application of modern Biotechnology in Nigeria, with a view to preventing its adverse effects on human health, animals, plants and environment.
Nigerians should know that the NBMA was not created to stop GMOs but to ensure that Nigerians and the environment are safe from any adverse impact they may have on human health and the environment.
This meeting is aimed at updating the general public on the activities of the Federal government in the area of Biosafety management in the country.
Globally, safe science and technology have been known to be drivers of economic change world over, Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind that is why the federal government through NBMA makes sure it approves only safe application of modern biotechnology for the economic development of the country particularly in the Agricultural sector.
I have said it before and will say it again, the NBMA is very thorough in its dealings and before any approval is granted, the National Biosafety Committee and the National Biosafety technical Committee meet to analyze, deliberate on the product which most times spans for two days and decisions are taken after careful and thorough analysis of the application. The NBMA does not act on its own as these committees comprise of experts drawn from sister Agencies, line ministries, scientists, Non-governmental Organizations, farmers and many other expert stakeholders who after their review make their recommendation to the NBMA for further action.
I want to restate here that the fruits and beans available in the Nigerian market presently are not genetically modified as insinuated rather they are either hybrids or improved. The federal government through NBMA is always poised to protect the health of its citizens and the environment by providing case by case analysis of GMO and risk assessments.
Since the inception of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) in 2015, the obvious impact of the Nigerian Biosafety Authority has been felt all over the globe. From the decision to approve Bt Cotton for environmental release in 2016 to the decision to approve PBR Cowpea for environmental release in 2019, the NBMA has made decisions based on scientific facts for the benefit of the Nigerian people and just like our activities that have not gone unnoticed in Africa, it has not gone unnoticed worldwide.
This is why the Nigerian Biosafety system is well sort after in Africa and the world as our regulations and guidelines have become models that other countries use in developing their own guidelines and regulations. The Nigerian biosafety system is a source of inspiration to other African countries and this is mainly due to our doggedness in ensuring that our mandate is achieved no matter the challenges, safety is our watch word.
As part of efforts to expand our monitoring and surveillance, the Agency has signed various memorandum of understanding with some sister agencies such as Standards Organization of Nigeria, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, National Seed Council, Nigerian Customs Service ensuring that the Nigerian boarders are well monitored in case of any unapproved GM import. Other stakeholders we have signed MoU with include the Varietal Release Committee and the Department of Veterinary and Pest Control Services under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and rural development.
The NBMA has not been resting on its oars in ensuring that only safe and approved genetically modified seed and grains for food and feed processing are allowed into the Nigerian market hence the constant upgrading of our GM detection and analysis Laboratory and our constant Inspection of GMO facilities, confined field trial sites and multi-locational trial sites. This is for proper Surveillance, tracking and monitoring of GMOs in Nigeria.
In line with the mandate that has been added to the Agency, on regulating new modern biotechnologies such as gene drive, gene editing, synthetic biology and ensuring Biosecurity, the Agency has developed a draft National Biosecurity policy which was presented to stakeholders by the Honorable minster of state for environment last December.
The Agency has equally developed gene editing guidelines which have been validated by stakeholders. The guidelines will ensure the proper regulation of gene edited products. However, some plants edit their genomes themselves independent of human efforts that is naturally hence cannot be expected to be regulated. But any man-made or scientifically inserted gene into an organism or plant will be regulated.
While gene editing and modern biotechnology are both genetic engineering tools, it will be out of ignorance to say all gene edited products are GMOs. A product can be termed GMO only if it contains a transgene. However, gene editing does not in all cases require introduction of new gene into the genome of an organism. It could be deletion or suppression of a gene.
I want to use this medium to assure Nigerians that Federal Government through the Agency is doing everything possible to ensure that we are all safe. Let me say this categorically that whatever the Agency says is safe is indeed safe. Nigerians should learn to trust the federal government and allow the Agency do what will be in their best interest. Nigerians need not be afraid as their health and wellbeing are paramount in the mind of the Agency as they relate to Biosafety.
I wish to appeal to the media not to serve as media of dissemination of falsehood and creating panic. We are aware of the malicious intention of a particular NGO to poison the minds of the members of the public on the application of safe modern biotechnology and the attempt to discredit the NBMA. The Agency has a responsibility towards the safety of Nigerians, the environment, the realization of government objectives in the diversification of the Nigerian economy towards the actualization of green economy and the economic prosperity of Nigerians.
The media have been major partners of the NBMA since inception and the Agency appreciates the work you are doing to ensure that our activities do not go unnoticed.
Thank you all for listening and I hope for better collaboration and synergy so that proper and correct information will be passed unto the public. Let us join hands together to dismantle misinformation and ensure right information for the growth and development of our Nation.