GMOs: Between facts and fictions
GENETICALLY Modified Organisms (GMOs) is a science of moving a material of inheritance from another or related organism into another one so that the organism will behave in that manner of that particular inheritance of that organism.
GMOs is a one of the components of biotechnology which is a science tool used to improve crop yield, reduce infestation from insect and pest, almost eliminate the effects of climate change and drought on plants.
This new technology have been greeted with many criticisms which to an extent had slackened its adoption in some parts of Africa including Nigeria.
Nigeria among other countries have a biotechnology regulatory agency which is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that any component of biotechnology must be certified safe for human and environment before it is released.
In Nigeria, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), have been working to ensure that these Genetically Modified Organism are declared safe before been released to the market and environment.
Biotechnology regulation in Nigeria
It is worthy of note that the Biosafety law was signed in Nigeria in 2015 which gave rise to the establishment of regulatory agency, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) same year.
Since its establishment, NBMA has carried out 3 approvals and accredited research institutes and universities for GM research.
The practice of modern biotechnology ordinarily is not intended to pose any harm or danger to the public or the environment and to ensure that this potent tool is not misused.
The Director General of the NBMA, Mr Rufus Ebegba said “the issue of the National Biosafety Management Act is the first measure the federal government has put in place, with a law in place, and we also have an agency to implement the law, to make sure that the practice of modern biotechnology is done in compliance with some laid down rules and regulations, and it that light, the agency is well established in a way that nothing unsafe as regards to Genetically Modified Organisms will be allowed into this country.
“We have been able to develop competence in other to ensure we are able to ascertain what is good and what is not good for this country, and when we are looking at the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms, we are looking at it from the from the issue of safety to human health and to the environment and the issue ofsocio-economic concern.
“It is a broad review when you are looking at the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms, it is not something you just produce and you bring it into the market and Nigerians will just start buying them, and apart from that, this products will be labeled for consumers interest, Nigerians don’t need to be afraid, they don’t need to bother, it is a scientific evolution which I going on globally, and Nigeria as a country is adequately prepared for this evolution.”
On the level of compliance with Biosafety Act by some superstores, the DG of NBMA said “so far there is a very good compliance ongoing, it is a new a technology and even most of those superstores does not know they are selling Genetically Modified products, and even as much as we said they should remove these things from their shops, it doesn’t mean that these foods are not safe, they have been certified are from wherever they are coming from but we as a country have our laws, they must comply with our laws, and for those who have failed to comply, when we detect them, the law will take its full cause, it is a five year imprisonment term and a fine of some certain amount of money and we will not allow Nigerian to serve as a dumping ground, we will continue to monitor for compliance.”
Speaking on when the GM products would be released to the Nigerian market, Ebegba said “some of them have actually applied for formalization of their products, and still we have to test these foods to make sure that they don’t contain materials that will be harmful to Nigerian.”
Facts and fiction
Science is an evidence based process which deals with facts not fiction. GMOs which undergoes series of scientific test and a Confined Field Trial have been proven safe for the environment and human, still get fictitious criticism from different quarters.
Dr Adourhamane said there was nothing magical about GMOs, stressing that “it is just like a crop, we breed crops, it is just a new way of breeding crops”.
He explained “GMOs is like for example, I want to plant cowpea but it does not have resistance to a particular pest, but yam have resistance to that pest, I can take the resistance gene from yam and put it into cowpea and it works, so it doesn’t create problems”
Many scientists have on countless times explained that the issue of GMOs containing toxin is a baseless argument. The maintained that even most of conventional seeds and crops contains toxic substances which is removed during processing of those crops for consumption.
Another issue raised by the critics of this new technology is that the the seeds of GM crops cannot be replanted after harvest, which they argued will make Nigeria or any other country that adopts it slaves to the seed companies or the exporting countries.
Dr Rose Gidado during one of her interviews with Nigerian Tribune stated that the seeds from the GM crops could be replanted after harvest, but it will not give you the same yield as the parent.
Even the hybrid seeds we use in Nigeria, after farming season, the government still runs back to the seed companies to buy new hybrid seeds for farmers to use in the next farming season.
Speaking further on that, Dr Adourhamane argued that most African countries have been food dependent, he also said if United States and other countries stop the food aid, most of these countries will go hungry.
“Government spends billion of naira buying seeds for farmers every year. There is no plan by anybody to make farmers buy seeds every year because farmers have been seed dependent for over 20 years now. If you don’t have anything to eat, you don’t store grains, so government have to buy seeds for farmers every year”,he said.
The issued of soil degradation was also raised by the critics. They said records shows that the soil where GM crops were planted repeatedly degrades and at a point loses its fertility entirely.
Reacting to this, Dr Gidado explained “if a GM seed is seen as when planted, it degrades the soil, that means the parent of that crop must be doing the same thing. Under normal circumstance, before this technology was invented, how was farming? Our fore fathers were practicing shifting cultivation. The reason why they adopted shifting cultivation is because the nutrients in that particular soil have been used up by the plants.
“So what is so different if I plant a GM plant, I cannot continue planting in the same place for 3 years, except if I fortify the soil, and that’s why fertilizers are being used, either organic or chemical, I can use any fertilizer for my GM plants. So it is the same natural crop, the same conventional crop, what breeders are trying to do is to make life better for the farmers, if the farmers have good yield, we are going to have food”
Way forward on biotechnology
Like some scientists will say that biotechnology have come to stay, Nigeria should not shy away from the adoption of this new technology to improve the agricultural sector, provide food for domestic consumption and for export.
Mr Ebegba said “there have been a lot for fear being created, the fear being created shouldn’t be there at all because before GMOs are allowed, risk assessment is carried out and so far, none have been found to have any hazardous materials in them.
“The World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization have said they have not found anything substantially different from the GMOs and their conventional counterpart.
“GMOs are in different types, being developed for different purposes, we have the insect resistance, we have the disease resistance, we have the one that can make nutrient in a particular organism available, we have herbicide tolerant. Maize and cotton are already in the market but not in Nigerian market”.
In as much as the regulator of biotechnology adoption in Nigeria have tried severally to explain to Nigerians that GMOs are not harmful, it is pertinent that the government expedite actions towards providing policy framework which will further enhance the smooth adoption of the technology.
Genetically Modified Organisms is a technology which Nigeria cannot afford to neglect, this new technology will help African countries to upscale its food production, guarantee food security and earn foreign exchange for the countries.