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Group Rejects Bill to Amend NBMA Act 2015

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Prof Adewole, Health Minister

A Group on the platform of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), has called on stakeholders to reject the bill for an act to amend the National Biosafety Management Agency Act (2015) to enlarge the scope of the application in Nigeria.

The Group also called on the House Committee on Environment and Habitat to dismiss the proposed Bill to expand the scope of the Act to include evolving aspects of biotechnology such as gene drives, gene editing and synthetic biology

In a statement signed by HOMEF Director, Nnimmo Bassey (MFR), the Group said “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.

“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 Group maintained that 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 use of their products as is the case in a similar Act in Uganda.

They advised that the use of gene drive organisms will entrench a system of genetically engineered industrial agriculture, extend agro-toxin use and foster corporate control over global food systems, undermining the food sovereignty of farmers, food workers and consumers.

In their view “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 security”

They further lamented that too much discretionary powers are given to the agency on processing of applications on modern biotechnology, calling that there should be a 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.

“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.

HOMEF recalled that 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, 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 and Risk management measures are in place to avoid or minimize potential adverse effects

“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 is in place. With Gene drive experimentation already slated for other countries in West Africa and given that gene drive organisms can spread across political borders, this should be of significant concern to our law makers.

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.

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