The disagreement between the National Biosafety Management Agency and anti-GMO campaigners over the safety of genetically modified foods took a new twist Wednesday with the agency accusing the activists of being “unpatriotic.”
Specifically calling out the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), a nongovernmental organization at the forefront of the campaign against Genetically Modified Organisms, the agency said the group is frustrating government’s efforts to attain food security through the application of technology.
“The attention of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has been drawn to a series of incisive and unpatriotic statements peddled by the Health for Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) about the agency and its activities,” the agency said in a statement.
“While the agency does not want to banter with HOMEF or any of its kind, it is important to state here that NBMA is a government agency established by law as a regulatory agency to ensure the safe handling and use of modern biotechnology and its products which includes Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
“Hence, the establishment of the agency is not to stop the use of GMOs but to ensure that it is safe for Nigerians and that it has no adverse effect on human health, plants, animals and the environment.”
In September last year, the NBMA issued approval for the confined field tests of genetically modified cassava in Ibadan, Oyo State.
But the HOMEF and its partners condemned the approval, describing it as a ploy to flood the country with genetically modified foods.
In its statement on Wednesday, the NBMA said it has been constitutionally charged with the responsibility for providing the regulatory framework, institutional, and administrative mechanism for the safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria with the view to preventing any adverse effect on human health, animals, plants and environment.
“The agency does not go outside the law in the course of the discharge of its duty and we ensure that the public is carried along in all the agency’s activities ‘through effective public participation, public awareness and access to information in the use and application of modern biotechnology and GMOs.’
The agency defended its approval of permits for the confined field trials of some genetically modified crops saying due process was followed in the review of the applications and it ensured that the necessary requirements were met before the permits were granted.
“The agency has no intention and will never verbally engage HOMEF, but these statements made against the agency are not only incisive but negate the efforts of the Federal Government of Nigeria to ensure safety in the application of the technologies that assure Nigerians of food security and food safety.
“It will be wrong and indeed out of place to accuse the Agency of complicity as the Agency is an unbiased umpire and has the interest of Nigerians at heart in the process of regulation and as such can’t be involved in anything that will cause harm to the people and the environment.”
When contacted by PREMIUM TIMES, the Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, accused the NBMA of shirking its responsibilities as a regulator.
“They have a misperception of themselves as being equivalent to the country,” Mr. Bassey said.
“They think anything they do, it’s the country that is doing it because one can only be unpatriotic with regards to the country, not individuals or organizations.”
Mr. Bassey said the anti-GMO campaigners were solely concerned about a safe environment and food.
“We are concerned about the safety of the Nigerian environment and about our biodiversity and about our food systems and it’s their job to regulate and we want them to regulate according to law,” he said.
“The NBMA are not the federal government, they are just an agency of the government and they are the ones that are inciting Nigerians because when they say that GMOs are safe and their job ought to stop GMOs but they are bringing GMOs it’s completely what a regulatory agency should not be doing.
“There is no agency that will be 100 percent perfect and it’s our job as watchdogs to keep them alive to their duty. So they should actually be grateful that we are pointing out to them their lapses.”
Next week, the Director General of the NBMA, Rufus Ebegba, will host a Twitter chat where he would discuss ‘Safety of GMO use in Nigeria.’
Mr. Bassey said such actions by the head of the country’s biosafety agency show “they are completely biased.”
“They are doing a job that is not their duty,” he said.
“They are promoting… they even had in on their website up to 1st January that they are promoting GMOs in this Nigeria. Even this twitter chat they are planning, it’s an indication, they want to tell Nigerians that GMOs as long as it passes through their desk is safe. They have completely missed it.
“They are like a referee wearing the jersey of one of the teams and celebrating a goal instead of blowing the whistle.”
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