GMOs Harmless To Humans, Animals, Environs – Agric Research Coalition

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L-R: The director-general, National Biosafety Management Agency, Dr. Agnes Asagbra; Director-general, National Biotechnology Research Development Agency, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha; Director-general, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, Prof. Garba Sharubutu; Acting director-general, National Agricultural Seed Council, Dr. Khalid Ishiak; and National president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Arc. Kabiru Ibrahim during the world press conference in Abuja.

A coalition of Nigeria’s agricultural research system led by the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) has assured the public that genetically modified (GM) crops are safe and pose no harm to humans, animals and the environment.

The council revealed this during a world press conference on GM technology in agriculture held in Abuja, Nigeria’s agricultural research system.

The group, which includes the National Biotechnology Research and Development Agency (NBRDA), National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), National Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), unanimously affirmed the safety and benefits of genetically modified crops.

Director-general of the NBRDA, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha stated that the aim of the press conference was to educate the nation on the proven safety of GMOs. He addressed the ongoing debate regarding the safety of GMO plants on human and environmental health, which has been reignited by the introduction of Tela Maize. This debate has led to widespread fear and skepticism among the public.

According to Mustapha, GMOs represent a crucial advancement in biotechnology, offering benefits across agriculture, food security, health, industry and the environment. These genetically modified organisms have the potential to address pressing global challenges such as food scarcity, malnutrition, and environmental sustainability. By harnessing genetic engineering, Nigerian scientists and researchers have developed crops that are more resilient to pests, diseases and adverse climate conditions, ensuring a more secure food supply for present and future generations. Some of these crops include Bt Cowpea, Bt Cotton and the newly released Tela Maize.

Mustapha emphasized that Tela Maize, a transgenic, drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize variety, is designed to thrive in challenging climatic conditions and is safe for humans and the environment. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) have stated that GMOs are safe for human and animal consumption. Similarly, the Nigerian government has taken a positive stance on GMOs and their safety. The technology behind GMOs, known as modern biotechnology or genetic engineering, allows for the transfer of selected individual genes from one organism to another. This process has been thoroughly studied and tested, with no evidence indicating that GMOs are harmful to human health.

By adopting genetically modified crops, Nigeria can increase food security, improve crop yields, and reduce the use of harmful pesticides. It is time to move past the fear and skepticism surrounding GMOs and embrace this cutting-edge technology for the benefit of all Nigerians, Mustapha asserted.

Mustapha also highlighted the NBRDA’s role in addressing hunger, malnutrition, and poverty in Nigeria, contributing to a more resilient and sustainable agricultural sector that benefits both farmers and consumers. Through research, advocacy and capacity-building initiatives, the agency is working to ensure that Nigerian farmers have access to the latest advancements in biotechnology. He urged journalists and participants to be ambassadors for truth and enlightenment, informing society about GMO products and dispelling misinformation.

Director-general of the NBMA, Dr. Agnes Asagbra stated that GMOs are organisms with novel genetic material obtained through modern biotechnology, enhancing crop traits, improving yields, and addressing agricultural challenges. She emphasised that the NBMA is Nigeria’s sole authority on biosafety matters, enforcing standards, guidelines, and risk assessment procedures for GMOs. The NBMA conducts rigorous risk assessments to evaluate potential risks to human health, the environment, and biodiversity before granting approvals for any GMO. This process involves scientific experts who analyse data, conduct experiments, and assess the safety of the GMO in question, considering factors such as allergenicity, toxicity, and unintended effects resulting from genetic modifications.

Asagbra assured that GMOs undergo thorough evaluation before approval and that the NBMA monitors GMOs even after they enter the market, tracking their impact on health, the environment, and biodiversity. If any adverse effects emerge, the NBMA takes appropriate action. She stressed that NBMA actively engages with the public, stakeholders, and relevant organizations to ensure transparency and safety.

Executive secretary of the ARCN, Prof. Garuba Sharubutu noted that the council advises the Federal Government on national policies and priorities in agricultural research, training and extension activities, including biotechnology research in agriculture to improve crop plants and livestock breeds. This enhances productivity and boosts national food security. Research Institutes under ARCN are mandated to genetically improve all staple and cash crops, livestock, and fisheries. Biotechnology offers a novel way to develop crop varieties and livestock breeds resilient to stresses from climate change and other farming challenges. Sharubutu highlighted successful increases in productivity in corn, soybean, and cotton through biotechnology in other parts of the world, including the USA, Europe, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

Dr. Khalid Ishiak, acting director-general of NASC, revealed that research shows over 50% of total crop yield is determined by the genetic potential of the crop carried in the seeds, with the rest attributed to proper agronomic practices and other inputs like fertilizers and agrochemicals. He highlighted the challenges facing Nigerian agriculture, such as climate change, pest and disease invasions, unpredictable rainfall patterns, drought, population explosion, and insecurity in farming communities. He assured farmers that it is safe to use GMO seeds and that NASC, in collaboration with relevant institutions, is addressing farmers’ and seed producers’ concerns. Seeds from GM materials bred in Nigeria can be replanted, although it is advised to buy new seeds for optimal yield gain to avoid yield loss.

Arc. Kabiru Ibrahim, President of AFAN, stated that attacking GMOs in Nigeria is not in the interest of Nigerian farmers. He emphasized that GMOs offer farmers opportunities for better earnings, noting that all allegations against GMOs have not been substantiated in practice.

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