Regulation of biosafety in Nigeria is crucial for the protection of human health, conservation of the environment, ensuring agricultural sustain-ability, complying with international standards, building consumer confidence, addressing ethical considerations, promoting responsible research, and involving the public in decision-making processes. These regulations help to avert  the potential risks  to human health, and socio -economic impacts arising from the adverse impacts of  GMOS on the conservation  and sustainable use of biological diversity and ethical considerations associated with their use.

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) was set up in 2015 and it is responsible for ensuring compliance with biosafety regulations and guidelines, with a focus on protecting human health, biodiversity, and the environment. The agency is responsible for assessing the potential risks associated with the use of modern biotechnology and genetically modified organisms, and evaluating applications for the release or importation of GMOs.

The National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015 is however froth with loopholes that prevent the legislation from adequately safeguarding the health and interest of the Nigerian people. Nothwitstanding, products of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are approved for use in Nigeria in a way that does not conform to even the faultlessprovisions of the Act.

GMOs have significant implications for Nigeria’s food security, food sovereignty, biodiversity, economic resilience and overall wellbeing of our people. It is therefore imperative that all relevant stakeholders have a deep understanding of the implications of this technology to ensure citizens make informed decisions. Additionally,  it helps  the Legislative, Executive and Judicial arms of government, in making, implementing and interpreting the right policies and laws. 

The Event

The Training was organised to deepen understanding on GMOs and the state of Nigeria’s biosafety. The event highlighted necessary steps that should be taken to reverse the trend of genetic and biodiversity contamination, soil degradation, pest/weed resistance and to uphold our rights to life, safe food, and a healthy environment.

The event equipped judges to better understand and interpret and apply biosafety regulations in legal cases, requiring a solid understanding of the various aspects of GMOs. A deep comprehension of GMOs and biosafety will help the judges make decisions that align with both legal principles, equity and good conscious  and the public good.

Key Observations

  • False Solution to Food Insecurity: GMOs are promoted on the false premise of addressing food insecurity. However, challenges with food productivity and hunger in Nigeria are mostly as a result of conflicts, insecurity, poverty, inequalities, lack of basic infrastructure, subsidies, imbalance of power/power inequalities, lax and watered-down regulatory framework, corporate interference in government policy. and poor extension service. 
  • GMOs do not Address Hunger: In over 3 decades since the introduction of GMOs in the world and almost a decade since their introduction in Nigeria, GMOs have not addressed hunger. Rather they lock in the system that promotes hunger by degrading soils, reducing biodiversity, disregarding the knowledge of local food producers, promoting monocultures and concentrating power in the hands of a few market players. 
  • Increased Pesticide Use: Instead of reducing pesticide use as promoters of GMOs purport, GMOs have increased pesticides use owing to the development of superweeds and super bugs. Farmers are driven to seek/use more toxic formulations.
  • Labelling: Nigerians cannot exercise their right to choose their food with GMOs because labelling is not enforced. Even if it were to be enforced it will be ineffective due to the manner in which food is sold (mostly on cups and measures in open markets) and consumed (often in processed forms such as Akamu (Maize), Akara or Moi-Moi (beans), Cotton seed etc 
  • Inadequate Risk Assessment: There has been no systematic risk assessment – no evidence of long term testing to ascertain the impact of GMOs on human health. At best what we have is field trials – to confirm the performance of the genetically modified variety.
  • No Consensus on GMOs Safety: Nearly all studies that claim GMOs safe are funded by the same biotechnology corporations that profit from GMOs. However, evidence abound connecting GMOs with health issues (including cancers, Alzeihmers’ disease, immune diseases), environmental damage, food system disruptions and violations of consumers’ and farmers’ rights. 
  • Contamination: Experience with GM contamination in other parts of the world shows  that what is planted in one country or State may be found in another . The Starlink Scandal and contamination of biopharmaceutical crops have underlined  the urgency  to seal the Pandora box. We need to take prompt action and learn from the numerous lessons with GM crops that can be taken from decades of commercialization of these failed crops in other parts of the world. The fact that the key pushers of the GM crops are at the same time the major exporters of agriculture commodities, makes every importer of such commodities  a potential recipient of GM crops. 
  • Poor Regulatory Architecture: The National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015 (as amended in 2019) is froth with loopholes that prevent the legislation from adequately safeguarding the health and interest of the Nigerian people. For example, the composition of the governing board is arbitrary- with a major promoter and developer of GMOs i.e the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) as a member. The Act deviates from the basic tenets of “Liability and Redress” explicitly defined in the Cartagena Protocol to which Nigeria is signatory and instead (subsumes) institutes a fault-based type of liability and redress in which the petitioner must prove that a defendant’s conduct was either negligent or intentional. Also there are no adequate provisions on the precautionary principle, public participant or access to information. Not withstanding, GMOs are approved for use in Nigeria in a way that does not conform to the provisions of the Act or global best standards. 
  • The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has excessive discretionary powers. No inter-agency collaboration is demonstrated,  although this is important for  a more robust regulation. 
  • Gene Editing and Synthetic Biology: Otherwise Called GMOs on steroids or GMOs 2.00. Advanced forms of modern genetic engineering in agriculture such as gene drives and synthetic biology compound the risks already posed by first generation GMOs. Threats associated with these include the possibility of gene drives being used as bioweapons; neocolonialism, the loss of livelihood for local farmers/producers owing to synthetic biology, biodiversity erosion etc. Synthetic products would eventually replace natural products; dominating the market with products that would not guarantee the nutritional values already embedded within natural food products.

Key Recommendations

  • GMOs are not a panacea to food insecurity. The government should as a matter of urgency address the issues of insecurity and farmer/herder clashes to enable farmers freely and effectively carry out their farming. Also, the extension  system should be revived and adequate support given to farmers in terms of credits, access to markets, and provision of infrastructure.
  • The National Assembly should urgently review the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to close the existing loopholes (refer to draft review by HOMEF) and ensure stringent regulation for the preservation of Nigeria’s biosafety and the intergrity of our environment. The review should:
  • address the composition of the board of the NBMA to exclude the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) activities of which the NBMA was set up to regulate.
  • Strengthen and enforce corporate accountability rules, including a ‘do no harm principle’ with mandatory disclosure
  • Strengthen processes to assess and address conflicts of interest.
  • Stop the revolving door between government agencies and multinational corporations and industry lobby groups.
  • include robust provisions for domestication and implementation of the precautionary principle. Also, the review should enforce the basic tenets of “Liability and Redress” explicitly defined in the Cartagena Protocol.
  • mandate a more robust –  long term –  prior risk assessment (including feeding tests) before GMOs are approved for release into the Nigerian environment.
  • ensure/enforce inter agency collaboration in the monitoring and requlation of GM products.
  • The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) should ensure adequate surveillance on shopping malls for imported products of GMOs.
  • The risks associated with GMOs far outweigh any benefits that they are purported to provide. The Presidency should impose a moratorium on all GMOs and ensure robust consultations and risk assessment.
Share This
Select your currency
USD United States (US) dollar