‘GMO maize to be ready after five-year safety trial’
The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has said that the Genetically Modified (GMO) maize recently approved to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited may not be in the market until another five years.
The five-year window period, according to the agency, is to ensure that the product meet all safety standards and without any side effect or significant difference from the conventional maize currently in season.
Director General of the agency, Rufus Ebegba, told The Guardian at the Murtala Muhammed Airport II (MMA2) Lagos terminal that the fears currently nursed in some quarters were unnecessary, adding that his approval of GMO maize and cotton trial in Nigeria were in the best interest of the country and the people’s safety without room for compromise.
It would be recalled that the NBMA had recently issued two permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. One is for the commercial release and placing on market of genetically modified cotton and the other for the confined field trial of maize, both of which were greeted with condemnation by the stakeholders on safety grounds.
Ebegba, contrary to persistent hue and cry against GM products in Nigeria, said that the products would only be allowed into the market after they have been confirmed safe for consumption.
His words: “Our permit on maize is experimental and it would still take up to five years before the experimental ones can come into the market. Even the one for commercial reason (cotton) must still have to go through series of procedure and may never come to the market, if it comes at all, until the next two or three years.
“I know you cannot give a total proof to anything because the technology can also be used for something dangerous. But I want to assure Nigerians that there is no GMO that will harm anyone in this country that will be released. There are sanctions. No one wants to go to jail, not even for one day. If other countries accept what is wrong, we will not accept it,” Ebegba said.
He explained that that his agency had started a survey of all the GM products that have entered into the country before the biosafety agency was established last year. And once they are found not good enough, they would be mopped out of the market.
Ebegba said that he was not unaware of controversies around Monsanto, the United States biotech giant, but the agency’s task is not to reject GM product and applications, rather to ensure that they align with strict safety standards.
He said that the agency was established to ensure the safety of Nigerians as regards the use of genetically modified organisms and also the research that leads to their development, adding that the government was in the best position to protect the people.
Contrary to claims, the DG added that there was no secrecy in granting Monsanto’s request for maize and cotton trial in Nigeria.
His words: “When there was an application from Monsanto to perform field trial, which is experimental and also the possibility of releasing GMO cotton, there was a publication by the agency in three newspapers, telling Nigerians that there is an application for these biosafety permits, calling on Nigerians who have anything to say against it to come forward. That was in the media for one month before we took our decision.
“If there is need for me to hide anything, I would not have announced the application. Secondly, the application that was granted was filed around October last year and we didn’t approve it until May. It took a longer time because we have to ensure that all the necessary things were done.
“Since 2009, Nigeria has been receiving applications for biosafety permits. And we have other institutions like the Nigerian Institute of Agricultural Research; National Cereal Research Institute among 26 others that have been granted these applications over the years and these experiments are still on the field, under very close watch and monitoring to ensure that there are no adverse impact to the environment and the Nigerian people.
“We mean well. The interesting thing is that there no difference between a maize that is genetically modified and another that is not, from the analysis so far conducted. Monsanto is not the only one we have granted permit to. If anyone has issues with Monsanto, it should not be used to vilified my agency. The agency is established to ensure safety, not to stop GMO.
“There is no reason to raise health concerns. GMO has been in the market since 1996 and there is no doubt that we have them in the market. I can boldly tell you that all what we have in the market have been tested and confirmed safe,” Ebegba said.
Monsanto is a publicly traded American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Greater St. Louis, Missouri, United States. It is a leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed and roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide. Monsanto’s role in agricultural changes, biotechnology products, and lobbying of government agencies, along with its history as a chemical company has made the company controversial.
Concerned Nigerians made up of 100 groups comprising farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local farmers are urging the Federal Government not to introduce GMO crops now and even if this should be done in the future, it must be after an extensive local research on its safety.
Also, scientists have urged caution before setting the GM bugs loose in an effort to make malaria and Zika-carrying mosquitoes a thing of the past.