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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Nigeria: Why Nigeria Is Adopting GMOs - Official




Rose Gidado is the Scientific Officer and Assistant Director of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA). She is also the country coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa.
GM foods have been heavily criticised for their long term health effects and other demerits. However, in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES' Ebuka Onyeji, Mrs Gidado speaks on the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for agriculture in Nigeria. She responded to many health related issues and defects attributed to the consumption of GM foods. She also explained the importance of GMO technology to the country's agricultural system.
PT: What are GMOs?
Gidado: GMOs are those organisms, plants, animals and micro-organisms that have had their DNAs improved. Their DNAs have been altered in such a way that a trait is imputed into it. For instance, in the case of plants, there could be a trait you want your plant to have, like a pest resistant trait or a trait for nutritional enhancement. In the case of animals maybe you want your cow to produce a lot of milk or you want it for beef and then in the case of humans you can also use this technology to do gene therapy, you can either edit genes that can make you prone to certain ailments, you use it to treat and eliminate cancer from a human system. You can use it to eliminate sickle cell disease which is a debilitating disease that cause a lot of pains in children.
So you can see that GMO technology is not just a technology for agriculture, it can also be applied in other areas of the economy, environment, agriculture, medicine, industry and all. Why there is much noise about it in agriculture and the food system is because agriculture has to do with food and that's where people have concern. But it's actually for an improved yield, nutritional content of food and for agribusiness. GMO is a technology meant to play a complimentary role to the conventional natural farming system. It is not meant to over take the normal technology. Any challenge we have that can be solved using natural and conventional ways, there is no need of applying GMOs there. But there are some challenges that can not be solved through the traditional means, that is why we use GMOs. there is a lot of low level of knowledge about GMOs in the society that is why we misunderstand the concept.
PT: How safe are GMO foods for human consumption?
Gidado: GM foods or products are very very safe because they have history of safe use in developed countries where the technology is being adopted. It is well used in U.S., Canada, Brazil, India, Argentina, South Africa, Sudan among other countries. GM products are highly scrutinised. I can say they are even safer than our conventional foods that are not regulated. The scientists that invented this technology are responsible people because they know that they are picking a trait from an unrelated specie of crop, lets say from Sorghum and putting that trait into maize. Sorghum, every one knows, is a draught tolerant crop and maize is a rain fed crop and in Nigeria, it is not every where you can plant maize. In northern Nigerian there are places you have only three months of rain, like Maidugri we have places which is more like a desert. So if I want to plant maize in Maidugri, I will pick that gene in sorghum responsible for making it withstand draught then put it in the maize. So after the insertion, the new gene will get accepted in the host crop that is the maize and it will now express itself. But I might be afraid because they are not fully (same), so I have to watch it to make sure it gets accepted and expresses its self fully. I will now regenerate it into a plant and it comes up and grows, then the next thing is for me to subject it to different test analysis and as am doing this toxic chemical and nutritional analysis, I have to be sure that this new crop I came out with is substantially equivalent to the parent. I now have a new GMO maize but I have to subject this new maize to a comparative analysis with my traditional maize to determine If what I have done is with good intentions so that people in Maidugri will be able to have and plant maize without having to worry about draught and there will be food security. So I now have to go back to the lab, engage in field trials, plant the both side by side, check how they are growing, if it is forming a new thing or has; if it brought in a new gene based on the history of safe use of my traditional maize. I also have to study the agronomy. When the seed is ripped I still have to take it to the lab, crush it and do proximate analysis to check if it gives me what the normal maize contains. If my traditional maize does not have allergens, then my expectation of my new maize is that it will not have allergens. I expect to see the same results as it is in the normal maize. These safety testing of the GMO products itself are being progressively developed by international bodies responsible for food safety systems like the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) among others. These products also undergo a lot of rigorous safety test procedure here in Nigeria.

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