The New Biosafety Law
BY signing the National Biosafety Agency Bill into law, President Goodluck Jonathan has signaled a turning point in biotechnology research and development in Nigeria. Though coming more than five years after the bill was introduced in the National Assembly as the Biosafety Bill 2010, with which researchers and experts in the relevant fields can now work within the ambit of the new law to pursue set objectives that are in Nigeria’s interest, this is commendable as it would create an enabling environment for the realisation of the full benefits of bio-technology development.
By this law, therefore, Nigeria is expected to join the league of countries advanced in the use of cutting edge technology to boost economic development.
Biosafety, is the prevention of large-scale loss of biological life forms, with particular emphasis on ecology and human health. This is achieved through regular conduction of biosafety reviews in laboratory setting as well as application of strict guidelines that must be followed. It is through biosafety that humans and a host of other biological life are protected from harmful incidents.
The door, therefore, is now open to Nigeria’s research institutes, universities, and others alike, to take advantage of the law to advance the course of biotechnology for national development. Above all, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) should play a leading role in all of this.
The Director-General of National Biotechnology Development Agency, Professor Lucy Ogbadu, the other day, in Abuja, announced the signing of the new law, stressing that Nigeria could, without delay, begin to commercialise biotechnology for cotton, maize, and herbicide-tolerant soya beans, all of which are already in use in South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt. She described the signing of the law as “a milestone in the domestication of modern biotechnology in Nigeria.”
The beauty of biotechnology is that it could lead to increased productivity, thereby, ensuring food security and industrial growth, especially, in the ailing textile industry. She noted that the passage of the law would also ensure the much desired in-flux of foreign direct investment from notable world leading biotechnology companies, thereby, improving gross domestic product growth rate and increasing job creation.
The law is expected to promote national security through the application of DNA finger-printing, crime detection, paternity testing and identification, among others. Other benefits of the law include promoting active commercialization of research and development; management of modern biotechnology in the country; legal framework to check the activities of modern biotechnology locally, as well as genetically modified crops imported into the country.
Biosafety regulation in Africa is rapidly gaining momentum as more African countries embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs). South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Togo and Mali reportedly already have biosafety laws.
Again, biosafety, is the prevention of large-scale loss of biological life forms, with particular emphasis on ecology and human health, achieved through regular conduction of biosafety reviews in laboratory setting as well as application of strict guidelines. Humans and other biological life are protected from harmful incidents through biosafety.
For instance, high security checks and monitoring are necessary in researches involving synthetic biology to avoid the possibility of bioterrorism that may entail the release of harmful chemicals or other deadly microbes into the environment. Full knowledge of the risks associated with experiments in synthetic biology helps to ensure effective biosafety protection.
Interestingly, biosafety could be applied in several related fields, which include agriculture, ecology, medicine, chemistry, synthetic biology and exobiology. In agriculture, for instance, biosafety helps to reduce the risks associated with alien viral or transgenic genes invasion. Biosafety is also applied in genetic engineering or risks associated with bacterial food contamination. In an age when food products are irradiated to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life, biosafety is imperative to check abuse. And in medicine, biosafety is applied in organs or tissues from biological origin as well as genetic therapy products.
The NABDA has the responsibility to ensure that the new law advances Nigeria’s quest for national development in various fields. The NABDA, a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, was established in April, 2001, with a mandate to develop viable and commercial biotechnology and technologies through strategic investments in biotechnology research and development. This is with a view supporting innovation and economic development as well as establishing and maintaining collaborations or linkages with both local and international organisations working in the biotechnology fields. The new law rightly gives teeth to the agency to pursue its goals and objectives without hindrance. It is indeed good for Nigeria’s future.