The National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) has sensitised staff of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) on facts about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their products currently available in Nigeria.
At the opening session of a training workshop organized by the agency in collaborating with its partners, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and Program for Biosafety System (PBS), the NABDA director-general, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, spoke of need to provide accurate and up to date information about advances in the biotechnology sector since its adoption in Nigeria in order to acquaint FCCPC staff with facts about GMOs so as to effectively disseminate same to the public.
“With the growing concern about the environmental impacts of large-scale use of insecticides and pesticides and the campaign launched to reduce the use of such chemicals, biotechnology application provides a ready substitute. Transgenic plants that are resistant to pesticides can play an important role in reducing the use of these chemicals.
“Plant varieties resistant to insects (Bt cowpea and Bt cotton) can help to cut down the total amount of insecticides used. This in turn can improve environmental quality. In addition, some transgenic plants can produce higher level of certain crucial nutrients, which can improve the nutritional quality of foods. Thus, the place of transgenic crops in our food production endeavour is enormous.
“Notwithstanding the foregoing benefits, there are still dissenting voices concerning the desirability of encouraging the growth of transgenic plants. They hold the opinion that it can have an adverse impact on the natural environment, ecosystem and biodiversity. However, current rate of extinction in the world today calls for timely intervention to conserve species that can thrive in harsh environmental conditions,” he said.
In his remarks, the executive vice chairman of FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, said the workshop was very important bearing in mind the many controversies surrounding GMOs and their products, especially the perceived safety concerns of some consumers globally and nationally which may be due to ignorance or otherwise.
According to him, the workshop is expected to ensure the discharge of the commission’s mandate to promote and protect the rights of consumers to information, choice and so on, as it pertains to GMOs as well as ensure a level playing field for businesses to thrive by promoting competitiveness thereby dismantling monopoly.
Irukera who was represented by the commission’s deputy director, operations, Dr. Adamu Abdullahi, however, said the commission could not carry out the role of effective sensitization of consumers on GM foods nationwide alone. He pointed out the need to equally sensitize relevant and credible consumer protection associations (CPAs), especially those registered with the commission that would serve as foot soldiers to take the messages to the nooks and crannies of the nation, saying support was needed in that regard.
Earlier, the NBMA director-general, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, noted that the agency recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the FCCPC so both of them could be on the same page in terms of understanding each other as FCCPC is the commission representing the voice of consumers, while NBMA regulates a product generally perceived as controversial.
“Government wants to use modern biotechnology to drive the economy, and science and technology will drive the modern economy. So, our responsibility as an agency is to regulate, to make sure that the products are safe to the environment and human health,” he added.
Highlighting the expected outcome of the workshop, the country coordinator of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Dr Rose Gidado, said they included efficient understanding of the scientific aspects of biotechnology, risk assessment and risk management.
Gidado, who is also a deputy director at NABDA, gave other expected outcomes as individual opinions formed on GMOs, awareness created on the maximum benefit from the potentials that biotechnology has to offer, and best practices and policies in biotechnology/ biosafety shared to identify strengths and weakness of biotechnology and biosafety systems in Nigeria and beyond.