Nigeria’s biotech law is defective – Experts

Experts call for review of Biosafety Act due to recent events that seem to portend grave danger to Nigerians, JOHN OBA writes

Legislations Experts have for long picked holes in the Biosafety Act, with major fundamental flaws, yet much is not been done by the legislators that are responsible for the amendment and the agencies saddled with the responsibility of implementing it.
Several occurrences in the sector have shown that there are major flaws in the Act that is exploited or misinterpreted by the managers of the sector and seeds companies like Monsanto.
WACOT saga This can be seen in the much publicised WACOT importation of Genetically Modified Coin into the country.
It took Nigerians outcry for the regulatory agency to act.
But within days, the same agency acted in such a suspicious ways that indicated compromise.
September 2017, the Director General NBMA decried the importation when the vessel named Diamond Harbour, arrived the ENL terminal of the seaport at Lagos with 25,750mt of maize worth $3.7 million at the current market value of $144.29/ mt.
Two days later, another vessel named Zola berthed at the same terminal with 42,900 mt of maize valued at $6.1 million, all these brought into the country illegally by WACOT Ltd.
Though, there was no sanction meted out to WACOT it was asked to repatriate the maize back to Argentina.
But more disturbing was the fact that, the same NBMA few weeks later issued permits to the same offending company to bring in as much of the GM maize as they want over a period of 3 years.
One can safely conclude that, NBMA was been economical with the truth if the same company that was adjudged to have imported the GM maize into Nigeria without due approval was cleared by the same agency.
A further issue that cannot be ignored was the fact that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had been notified of the illegal and unauthorized transboundary movement of the genetically modified maize into the country without any sanction for illegal importation of harmful substance.
One can safely conclude that the repatriation order was a mere smokescreen because the same illegally imported grains were approved for release and use by the company.
The company was further licensed to import the supposedly EU approved GM maize over a period of three years.
Though according to agency, its decision was based on its Act and on the advice of the National Biosafety Committee and National Biosafety Technical Sub-committee.
Added to that, they are convinced that there are no known adverse impacts to the proposed use of the various GM maize events in WACOT’s application, taking into account risk to human health.
Loopholes NBMA’s management inconsistency is due to the flaws in the act that established Nigeria’s biotech law is defective – Experts From left: Prof.
Tatefeng Mirabeau, Chairperson, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, Miss Oluwatoyin Okanlawon and Director, HOMEF, Dr.
Nnimmo Bassey, during a media training on promoting Biosafety in Nigeria, in Abuja recently Photo: John Oba Experts call for review of Biosafety Act due to recent events that seem to portend grave danger to Nigerians, JOHN OBA writes the agency.
Therefore, to preserve biosafety in Nigeria, the NBMA Act 2015 needs to be reviewed before it is too late.
Gaps with regards to access to information, public consultation and participation, liability and redress, labelling and the right to know, appeals and reviews and conflict of interest, the composition of the governing board of the NBMA that is populated with GMOs promoters need to be closed.
Speaking at a training workshop for journalists recently in Abuja, the Chairperson, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje lamented the flaws and the lack of concern currently being expressed by stakeholders in the industry toward the danger this portends.
According to her, the gaps that have to be filled in the Act are: access to information; public consultation and participation, clear provisions on liability and redress, mandatory and clear labeling and the right to know decision-making; and appeals and reviews.
“What is missing in the law is “not following the precautionary principles, there are no mention of liability and redress in case damage arises from the releases of GMOs into the environment.
Also no provision on coexistence and no clear and mandatory provisions on labeling and there are no check and balances.
“The issue of conflict of interest in the board of NBMA is particularly obvious and raises red flags about the state of biosafety in Nigeria.
For example, the permit issued by NBMA to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited (for the confined field trial of two maize varieties) was applied for by the company in implementation partnership with one of the members of the NBMA board, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).
With a GMO promoter applying for a permit in partnership with a biotech company, and sitting to approve the same permit, there are obvious reasons to call the entire transaction to question.
“The active promoters of the GMO technology are some of the major sponsors of NBMA’s ‘Biosafety and Regulatory events’.
In a system where there is order and transparency this state of play is unacceptable,” she said.
Act stipulations disregarded According to the director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) Dr.
Nommo Bassey Nnimmo Bassey, the National Biosafety Regulations, 2017, stipulates under objective 41 revealed that application for permit to import GMOs and GMO products for commercial production must meet the following conditions: “An applicant, who wishes to import a GMO for the first time for direct use as food, feed or for processing which are not already approved for commercial release in Nigeria shall make an application to the Agency in writing with reference to information on the item found in the Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH).
An applicant making an application under sub-regulation of this regulation shall complete an application form prescribed by the Agency.
“The Agency on receipt of an application in the prescribed form for GM food, shall: ‘acknowledge the receipt of the application within ninety days; and forward information relating to food and feed safety assessment to the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC) for review and certification.
“NAFDAC shall forward its decision concerning certification to the Agency within ninety days provided that the days during which NAFDAC is waiting for its requested relevant additional information shall not be counted.
Within twenty – one days of receipt of the NAFDAC decision, the Agency shall inform the applicant of its decision,” he said.
But the processes were not followed in the case of Monsanto and WACOT Limited as the agency quickly issues approval even before it could repatriate the illegal maize.
Also NAFDAC also looked the other way when all these were going and has refused to explain to Nigerians.
It would not be out of place if relevant authority will set up an investigative panel to look into the awkward relationship between NBDA management, Monsanto, WACOT while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should also investigate the management members.

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