Biosafety refers to the prevention of large-scale loss of biological integrity focusing both on ecology and human health. Simply put, Biosafety is used to protect humans and the environment from the adverse effect of modern biotechnology and its products which include genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
This is why at the international level, the united Nations convention on biological diversity, thought it wise to ensure that all countries have this regulatory agency in place because Biotechnology is a technology that is spreading like wild fire and have been identified as a sure way to food security and economic development and the need to ensure that this thriving sector is not hijacked by the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
In 2003, the Cartagena protocol on biosafety to the convention on biological diversity came into force and what is known today as the Cartagena protocol came to be. This protocol was to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by GMOs and modern biotechnology. the biosafety protocol makes it clear that products from new technologies must be based on the precautionary principle and allow developing nations to balance public health and economic benefits. It will for example let countries ban imports of GMOs if they feel there is not enough scientific evidence that the product is safe and requires exporters to label shipments containing genetically altered commodities such as corn or cotton.
Nigeria, as a signatory to this protocol decided to domesticate the protocol. Chief among this, was to establish a regulatory agency. Hence the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) came into existence after series of consultations and passage of the law on Biosafety in Nigeria.
With the establishment of this Agency, the face of the Biotechnology sector took a new turn for the better as the Agency with its home-grown Director General Dr Rufus Ebegba went tough on importers and dealers of seed, grain and foods that contain GMOs. With his pragmatic approach, made dealers to formalize their dealings. The products were tested and analysed and after hectic considerations via independent committees, that is, the National Biosafety Committee and the National biosafety Technical sub-committee, set up on different occasions and run concurrently. These permits are granted after it is sure that the products are safe for humans and it pose no harm to the environment. The committees comprise of farmers, civil society groups and scientists drawn from various higher institutions of learning across the country. These committees sit independently and after rigorous scientific process which usually take days of going through applications vigilantly, give recommendations to the Agency which is in turn analyses the report before taking decision. All these are after Newspaper publications on these applications. The agency does this as a way of engaging the public and to ensure that the public is carried along in its decisions making process.
There are guidelines that guide the workings of the Agency and these guidelines help to ensure that the agency is always in the right direction and focused on its mandate which is to ensure that Modern Biotechnology application and the use of its products which are genetically mordified organisms are safe to human health and the environment.
World over there is no Biosafety Agency created with an aim to stop the practice of modern Biotechnology or GMOs but rather these Agencies are created to help it thrive in a positive way by harnessing their potentials for farmers and the Agricultural sector for economic growth and Nigeria should not be an exemption.
The Federal Government has put in place all it takes to ensure that GMOs are safe and to prevent any adverse effect they might have on the people and the environment.
The law establishing the National Biosafety management agency is a sure way to ensure that Nigeria does not become a dumping ground for unwanted and unhealthy GMOs, the law is a sure way to ensure that the dividends from the biotechnology sector is properly harnessed for the benefit of Nigerian farmers and indeed of Nigerians for economic growth, food security and food safety.
Mallam Gombe is a Public Affairs Analyst