By Chiazo Ogbolu
The Nigeria Academy of Science (NAS) on Wednesday urged the Federal Government to maximise the benefits of biotechnology by embracing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) technology, research and production.
Prof. Oyebodun Longe, a Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry, University of Ibadan, made the appeal at the NAS Media roundtable on GMO in Lagos.
Longe, who spoke on “Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO): Use in Nigeria’’, said one of the significant attributes of GMOs demonstrated scientifically over the years was the concept of `Biodiversity Preservation’.
She said that with the fast growing work population, there was need to grow more food and that GMO would help to solve that problem.
She added that “even though adoption of GM technology in Africa may not have met expectations, African nations and Nigeria in particular, must for the sake of science, develop the scientific capacity to embrace GMO technology.
“The GMO technology, research and production will enable the country to confidently join others to maximise the benefits of biotechnology, particularly those related to food security and sustainable development.”
According to her, Nigeria must equip the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) with the technical know-how to do its work in order to adopt the technology.
She, however, explained that the Agency must have strict guidelines to check the inflow of GM foods from different entry points into the country and even imports of genetic materials for research purposes.
The don said government should rely on scientific research in order to set safety standards for GM foods.
“An effective regulation of GMOs is necessary for preservation of biodiversity, and government should put in place structures geared toward development of country specific products.
“The Bio-safety Bill must not fall short of the requirements of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to which Nigeria is a party, while international safety standard must be maintained,’’ she said.
She said research capacities must be strengthened with collaboration between the Ministry of Science and Technology, universities and research institutes with equipped laboratory to promote safe use of the technology.
Longe said that there were currently no commercialised Nigerian GMO, adding, however, that cassava, cowpea, sorghum and cotton, were currently under field research and were being developed with specific traits.
Earlier, the NAS President, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, urged government to create an enabling environment that would check that whatever GMO products came into the country were well verified.
Tomori said that as regards the long-term effects of GM foods, good laboratories should be in place so that the growth of GM products would be well managed to forestall any problem.
“We are protecting the future with this gathering. Should we have GMO in the country? What do we put in place in form of policy to safeguard the citizens?
“The country must be at alert, prepare for any eventuality, get people aware of products and their benefits to health,’’ he advised.
Prof. Effiom Ene-Obong, Professor of Plant Breeding and Crop Biotechnology, University of Calabar, said that the country was ready for GMO products.
He said “the country has a mass of trained scientists, enough manpower to go into the product.
“A genetic modified product goes through rigorous testing before it is released for consumption.
“The fear of the public is what kind of genes are being transferred and if eaten by man, what harm it may cause.”
He said that GMO products would not replace conventional agriculture, adding that it would only complement the conventional part of agriculture.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that a genetically modified product allows seated individuals genes from one organism to be inserted into another.
It can be used to promote a desirable characteristic or to suppress an undesirable trait.