Nigeria bio-safety chief defends GMOs

Rufus Egbegba
Rufus Egbegba [Photo Credit: The Guardian Nigeria]

Despite the criticism that has trailed the used of Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs, Nigeria’s bio-safety chief has defended the use of such crops.

Rufus Egbegba, who heads the National Bio-safety Management Agency, NBMA, said GMOs are the same conventional crops but improved versions for the purpose of sustainability and improved yields.

Rufus Egbegba, the Director-General of the agency stated this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on Monday in Abuja.

He, however, did not speak on the various health and environmental demerits associated with GMOs.

According to him, GMOs are not new crops invented by scientists but the same conventional crops that are improved on to tackle persistent issues such as shortage of food and insect infestation on crops.

“Genetically modified organisms are not different from their conventional counterparts.

“The difference is that, for instance like sugarcane, if you can discover what makes sugarcane to be sweet, you can sequence it.

“Pick that particular gene, the material of inheritance of the sugarcane and it you put it into plantain, the plantain will have the sweetness of sugarcane.

“You can even put it into orange and it will have the same sweetness.

“In genetically modified corn, there is this bacterium, it is always in the soil and it has been confirmed not to have any harm when you consume it.

“So, they discovered that it has a particular gene that can kill a particular insect that attacks corn; so, they put that gene in the corn and when the insect tries to bite the corn, it dies.

“So, the corn will now be protected, that is how it is. It is not necessarily a new crop.

“They are not new crops; it is the normal crops you have, just because they added something to it,’’ he said.

Mr. Egbegba said that cowpea and sorghum were presently being tried at the Institute of Agricultural Research in Zaria.

According to him, the cowpea is modified for insect resistance, and sorghum is modified for the availability of nutrients.

“Guinea corn naturally has iron zinc and protein, but there is a particular enzyme that makes those nutrients unavailable to humans and animals when they consume it naturally.

“But science can break down that barrier so, that is the modification that is being carried out and it is on trial in the field to make sure it is sustained because it takes a long process.’’

Mr. Egbegba said that there was also another product under trial called the `newest rice’ by the National Cereal Research Institute, Badegi.

He said that the rice had been modified to use less nitrogen fertiliser, less water, and could flourish even if the soil was a little salty.

Mr. Egbegba said that the modification was good because rice naturally would not survive in a salty environment.

According to him, nitrogen fertiliser creates one of the greenhouse gases for ozone layer reduction, which contributes to climate change.

The director-general, therefore, urged citizens to view genetically modified organisms from a knowledge angle and ignore statements that paint it as harmful.

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