Stores importing GMO food without permits will be shut – Agency

Provision store used to illustrate the story. [Photo credit: InfoGuideNigeria.Com]

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has warned stores across the country to desist from importing genetically modified foods without permits.

The agency said it would not hesitate to shut down such stores.

NBMA Director, Rufus Ebegba, in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES gave the warning while explaining safety procedures GMO products undergo before it gets approval.

Mr Ebegba warned that the agency would not hesitate to prosecute any violators of the NBMA Act.

He advised that all those who intend to deal in GMOs “must ensure they apply for a biosafety permit first”.

NBMA has severally being criticised over its method of granting permits for commercialisation of GM food crops into the country.

Critics say the agency hastily grants approvals without putting into considerations safety concerns raised by Nigerians.

Nigeria officially signed the Biosafety Bill into law in 2015, making it eligible to join the league of nations that are already using genetic engineering (GE), also called genetic modification (GM), to boost food production.

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A GMO is a plant, animal, microorganism or another organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology.

NBMA is the government agency that regulates and grants approval for GMOs in Nigeria.

Two months after it approved commercialisation of transgenic cotton varieties which was heavily kicked against by environmental activist, the agency last week approved GM Cowpea popularly known as beans.

The GM Cowpea is now the first edible GM food crop approved in the country.

Approval Process

Mr Ebega explained the process of granting approvals, insisting the GM Cowpea went through rigorous safety procedures.

“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,” he said.

He also added, “When an application either for the 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 a 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 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.”

He said 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 official said the agency would continue to ensure that only safe GMOs will be allowed for planting, consumption or processing in Nigeria.

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