Biosafety agency leverages technology to produce safe GMO plants with partners

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Photo: Dr Ebegba, NBMA D-G

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) says it is partnering with sister organizations in its commitment to leveraging technology towards ensuring that only safe Genetically Modified (GM) plants are produced for consumption in Nigeria.

Dr Rufus Ebegba, NBMA Director-General, made this known at a conference held with the partners in Abuja on Wednesday, aimed at the development of a guideline document on risk assessment and decision-making on GM plants.

“We intend to develop guideline on genes stacking whereby traits of different kinds are put in a particular organism, like the GM corn that has the ability for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.

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“Some of them are stacked to have same type of performance, like having a particular crop to have the ability to defend itself against particular insects and diseases.

“The GM cowpeas we have in the field now, have the CRI-1 ABG and CRI-2 ABG on same crop. When you develop a particular organism, you have added a gene that is not in that crop.

“ We want to know if this new gene would produce adverse reactions in the plant that can be harmful to humans or change the composition that can make it harmful to humans, the Director-General explained.

Ebegba stated that the guideline would enable the people developing stacked genes to know the Nigerian requirement, saying that the process was a management tool used to improve agriculture.

He further said that the meeting also sought to enlighten the public on the agency’s intention to venture into gene stacking, adding that the products are already in the international market.

He said the essence was for the agencies to be sure that the products that would be developed through genes stacking are safe to the environment and human health.

He thanked the NBMA partners, Nigerians and the Federal Government for their support, adding that the agency would continue to embrace technology that would enhance the Nigerian economy.

In his submission, Dr Jeremy Oaderego of AUDA–NEPAD, assured NBMA of its continuous support together with foreign partners on GMO products towards ensuring food security in Nigeria, stressing that with the outcome of the pandemic, the continent needed technology to address all the challenges it was facing.

He commended Nigeria for its push for modern technologies that would set a good practice for other countries, saying, “this is the way to go.’’

Also speaking, Mrs Modupe Adeyemo, AUDA’s Program Officer for Food Safety, said in developing the guidelines, necessary precautions would be followed based on international standards, adding that the agency which is responsible for promoting, development and deregulation would verify what the developers are doing to ensure the products are safe for consumption.

In his remarks, Dr Mathew Dore, Country Coordinator, Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS) commended NBMA for the work it was doing towards maintaining a healthy environment and human health. “Nigeria public has nothing to fear,’’ he said.

In his contribution, Marc Heijde, a plant molecular biologist and biotechnologist, who spoke via zoom, explained that stacked transformation occurs in a plant when the gene of a  parent plant is crossbred with another.

He disclosed that between 1996 and 2019, stacked traits of biotech crops had increased by 44.7 per cent globally.

NBMA is collaborating with the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA–NEPAD) and the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) to produce plants containing ‘stacked transformation events.’

A gene stacked event is a plant breeding process in which more than one gene from another organism is transferred to another plant with the created GMO having stacked genes or stacked traits.

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