The CBD made a landmark decision as one of the outcomes of the Conference of Parties (COP14) of the UN Convention on Biological held in November 2018. The decision called on governments to conduct strict risk assessments and to seek indigenous and local peoples’ consent before proceeding with the potential release of the “exterminator” technology. In the words of the outcome document, the COP Meanwhile, Nigeria’s House of Representatives commenced work on a Bill for an Act to Amend the NBMA Act, 2015 “to enlarge the scope of the Application and include other evolving aspects of the applications of Modern Biotechnology in Nigeria with a view to preventing any adverse effect on Human Health and the Environment; and for Related Matters (HB1578).” To continue the process, the Committee on Environment and Habitat of the House of Representations holds a Public Hearing on 27 March 2019 and HOMEF sent a memorandum on why the Bill should not be processed further or approved. Read our memorandum here:
To: House Committee on Environment and Habitat, House of Representatives, National Assembly Complex, Garki Abuja, Nigeria.
Cc: Mr Makwe Eric Eugene, Clerk, House Committee on Environment and Habitat. From: Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria Date: 22 March 2019
Reject the Bill for an Act to Amend the National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015 to Enlarge the Scope of the Application and Include Other Evolving Aspects of Modern Biotechnology in Nigeria.
Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) is an environmental/ecological think tank and advocacy organization. Our work is rooted in solidarity and in the building and protection of human and collective dignity. We believe that there are deep threats to our food systems, biodiversity and overall ecosystems in our nation due to considerations and policy actionsthat are not anchored on the right of our people to a safe and healthyenvironment.
HOMEF calls on the House Committee on Environment and Habitat to dismiss the proposed Bill to Expand the scope of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act to include evolving aspects of biotechnology such as gene drives, gene editing and synthetic biology
Nigeria should not dabble into these evolving aspects of biotechnology because we are still struggling with regulating the basic aspects of the technology – the first generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Enlarging the scope of the NBMA Act to include evolving aspects of the applications of biotechnology is a tremendously dangerous proposal that would compound the risks already posed by the basic application of the first-generation technology. Including these applications in the Act indicates opening the doors to the products of these dangerous technologies.
The use of gene drive organisms has
The global food and agriculture movement
The ethical, cultural and societal implications of gene drives are particularly complex and challenging. The ability of these new technologies to alter populations within short time frames and rapidly cause extinction, make them important biological weapons and a threat to global security3.
The United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity at the 14th Conference of Parties (COP) in November 2018 called upon Parties and other Governments “taking into account the current uncertainties regarding engineered gene drives, to apply a precautionary approach, 4 in accordance with the objectives of the Convention, and to only consider introducing organisms containing engineered gene drives into the environment, including for experimental releases and research and development purposes, when:
- Scientifically sound case-by-case risk assessments have been carried out;
- Risk management measures are in place to avoid or minimize potential adverse effects, as appropriate;
- Where appropriate, the “prior and informed consent”, the “free, prior and informed consent” or “approval and involvement”5 of potentially affected indigenous peoples and local communities is sought or obtained, where applicable in accordance with national circumstances and legislation;” (decision14/196)
At this time there is no agreement on how to carry out risk assessments or establish risk management measures for gene drive organisms nor clear guidelines on how to establish that appropriate, free, prior and informed consent of affected local communities
Until a global agreement is reached on how to carry out risk assessments exist, we would be concerned that any new framework enabling new gene-edited changes might also have the effect of creating loopholes allowing for gene drive organisms release unless there is aclearly statedprohibition.
The Amendment Bill seeks to include in the Act, a clause on synthetic biology stating that “Synthetic biology approach in genetic engineering involves the use of re-designed existing principles of engineering molecular biology, physics, chemistry and computer science to generate a new organism with traits which does not exist in nature.”
By this definition, doors will be open for all sorts of synthetic organisms to be released or experimented in Nigeria as long as they have traits that can be found in nature although these organisms themselves are in no way natural. This is a loophole that will be harnessed to bring in every kind of dangerous and artificial product.
We have to critically look at this because synthetic biology applications have tremendous implications for local economies and biodiversity. Natural products will be replaced with synthetic (unnatural) ones and markets will be concentrated in the hands of corporations thus increasing corporate control over the product processes7.
In addition to the negative impacts on local livelihoods, ecosystems and cultures, synthetic biology processes themselves may create unexpected contaminants, toxins or allergens that may be hard to control8.
HOMEF believes that Nigeria is ill prepared to handle these extreme technologies. The fact that CRISPR/Cas9 in the Amendment Bill is written as CRISPR/cast9 and ZFN is referred to as ZFM suggests that the promoters of this Bill and extreme technologies may not have sufficient understanding of what they are pushing for. This is the more reason we have to exercise caution.
We agree that the NMBA Act which was established in 2015 needs amendment but such amendment should be to protect the health, environment and economy of the Nigerian people and not to enlarge the avenue to be used for more risky experimentations.
The NBMA Act, 2015 in its present form has flaws that must be addressed such as the absence of provisions for strict liability and redress which mandates that the biotechnology corporations take responsibility for immediate and forthcoming negative impacts of
Since the NBMA Act came into force, applications for dealings with products of GMOs in Nigeria have been approved9 by the agency in an alarmingly fast rate, suggesting that scarce attention is given to the factful evidence on the risks associated with modern biotechnology. By our experience, approvals are granted without careful and impartial consideration of concerns raised by the public. Products of genetically modified organisms are abundant in our market shelves as revealed by a survey which we carried out across 10 Nigerian cities in 2018 even though we have a regulatory agency.10
In addition, too much discretionary powers are given to the agency on processing of applications on modern biotechnology. There should be put in place, chain regulatory system that actually involves major regulatory bodies such as the National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) to ensure more thorough regulation of the technology. It is hard to imagine an unbiased regulatory regime, with the board of the agency populated by promoters of modern biotechnology.
Our stand on this proposed bill is that the current regulatory system should first be strengthened. Or better still, we recommend an outright prohibition of the dangerous, evolving technology. An amendment of the Act to include evolving or extreme aspects of modern biotechnology will mean an unhindered movement of these products into Nigeria as the current biosafety regulatory agency acts as a promoter of the technology rather than an unbiased regulatory body.
We ask Hon. Obinna Chidoka and other supporters of the NBMA Amendment Bill to call it off in consideration of the highlighted risks that adoption of extreme biotechnology poses to food webs, ecosystems, biodiversity, our national economy and overall human and environmental safety. Our focus should be on strengthening the present biosafety system, investing in research on agricultural systems that upholds indigenous knowledge, protects livelihoods and ensures food sovereignty.
Nnimmo Bassey, MFR Director, HOMEF
1 How Gene Drive Organisms Could Entrench Industrial Agriculture and Threaten Food Sovereignty www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/files/etc_hbf_forcing_the_farm_web.pdf
2 A Call to Protect Food Systems from Genetic Extinction Technology www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/files/call_to_protect_food_systems_oct_17th.pdf
3 Reckless Driving: Gene drives and the end of naturewww.synbiowatch.org/2016/08/reckless-driving/
4 COP decision XIII/17 https://www.cbd.int/decisions/cop/?m=cop-13
5 COP Decision XIII/18https://www.cbd.int/decisions/cop/?m=cop-13
6 COP Decision 14/19https://www.cbd.int/decisions/cop/?m=cop-14
7 Synthetic Biology, Biodiversity & Farmer. www.etcgroup.org/content/synthetic-biology-biodiversity-farmers8 Synthetic Biology, Biodiversity & Farmers www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/files/etc_synbiocasestudies_2016.pdf
9 Biosafety Clearing House: Country’s Decisions and other Communications https://bch.cbd.int/database/results?searchid=738204
10 What’s on Our Plates–A Report on Market Shelf Survey for Products of Genetically Modified Organisms in Nigeria https://homef.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Report-on-Market-Shelves-Survey-for-GM-Food-Products-2018-web.pdf