GMO: Between regulator, promoter and the church
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the recent past have continued to generate controversies and heated argument between the pro and anti-GMO as Nigeria is looking for possible ways of improving agriculture, thereby reducing hunger and achieving food security.
While the promoters of GMO said it is time for the government to adopt the biotechnology following the continued food shortage in the country, the anti-GMO argued that there is enough land and improved seeds for the country to explore and improve agricultural productivity.
On the other hand, the church in trying to strike a balance between adopting biotechnology, said GMOs is not the only biotechnology Nigeria can adopt, saying that the issue of health needs to be prioritised before the adoption of any biotechnology in the country.
GMOs are those plants, animals and micro organisms that have been improved or their DNAs have been altered to enable the genes of those crops have some resistance against diseases, insects and pests, as well as harsh weather conditions as well, also to enhance nutrition. While some critics argue that the alteration on the genes of these crops could have a dangerous effect on humans and environment if not properly handled or the effect may come over the years, the promoters of GMO maintained that before any GMO product is released into the market, it must have undergone series of test that can take years and many on-farm trials must have been carried out to ensure its safety to human and the environment.
On the church, the Auxillary Bishop of Abuja Archdiocese, Bishop Anselem Umorem, said the issue of GMO is not just about the church, but it is bout humanity and the health of the consumers in general.
He said there are other ways of ending hunger in Nigeria other than adopting GMO holistically. He pointed out that Nigeria produces enough food to feed its populace but lack of basic infrastructure to convey the food to the market had made it appear as if there is no food in the country.
According to him “the issue of GMO will continue to generate some kind of tension, am not sure is all about Catholic Church, but it’s about humanity in general and it has to do with safety, health and so on, biotechnology has to do with so other things that are much more natural than the manipulation of genes for certain result, so what we are concern is that safety of life which has to do with health must be taken into consideration in all discussion.”
But the Country Coordinator of the Open Forum for Agriculture Biotechnology (OFAB), Rose Gidado, said Nigeria needs to adopt GMO, now following the recent attack on the crops by pest and disease which has led to food shortage and increased prices of food products in the market.
She said adoption of the biotechnology will reduce the level at which pest and insects attack crops and further reduce the amount of chemicals used in the farm because the GM crops will be resistant to the insects and pest.
“It’s time to introduce this GM seeds because people are suffering from emerging pests, insects and diseases that are affecting their plants and crops which has made majority farmers to remain in subsistent farming,” she said.
On enlightenment campaign on GMO, Gidado said OFAB is seeking ways to have more access to Nigerians and educate them on biotechnology, she also said that so far, some farmers have started inquiring on how to get the GM seeds for planting.
“Nigerians have been very responsive, people have been calling me for the GM seeds, and farmers have been calling to know how they can get the GM seeds. We have received invitations to places to share the knowledge of biotechnology.
“People who have not bought the idea of GMO are not properly informed, we want to have access to almost everybody who still have some doubts in this technology, education is knowledge, some of them are misinformed by the anti-GMO who are being paid by some chemical companies, because by the use of this GM seeds, at least the number of space done by farmers is always reduced and the chemical companies are not finding it funny with that, so they are actually the ones going behind and misinforming people, giving people invalid information, information that are not based on science.”
But Umorem maintained that Nigerians should be well informed before the introduction of GMO and all the avenues of the biotechnology properly explored, adding that we don’t adopt what we don’t know.
“You don’t adopt what you don’t know, you only adopt what you have explored all the avenues, people talk about GMO foods, we have land, why can’t we develop our land and plant food in the normal way until when we don’t have land, and we have little space, we can decide what we want to explore, but I still believe that whatever is decided, people must have an option,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Director General of the Nigeria Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Rufus Ebegba, said the government has laid down laws in the Biosafety Management Act to ensure compliance when releasing any biotechnology into the market.
“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 GMO 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 GMOs, we are looking at it from the from the issue of safety to human health and to the environment and the issue of socio-economic concern,” he said.
Speaking on when the GMOs products will 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.
“The issue of Genetically Modified Organism is not what you just release without doing the necessary verifications, Nigeria as a country have been involved in international biosafety, and at the national level here, we have the research institute, and even in the country itself, there have been some resistance from individuals and groups, so everybody needs to be properly enlightened, properly educated and also be assured of the safety of these products.
“Not just bringing a product that will not be patronized by the people, The essence of the product is for them to be acceptable, if the Nigerian people do not accept them, that means it is a wasted investment, there is need for the proponents of the technology to enlighten the Nigerian people, there is need for the NBMA to assure Nigerians of the safety of the products before they embrace it.”
“All indications shows that Nigeria is adequately prepared for this technology but it is gradual process, most of the things we are trying to do is that we are trying to make sure that these products do not necessarily come from abroad alone, but let Nigeria be able to produce the one we need in this country and not necessarily imported ones so that we can also generate foreign earning from this sector”.