Health  

Addressing effects of GMOs

GMOs… WHO strictly advised that all GM foods should be assessed before marketing

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Genetically Modified (GM) organisms/foods are those derived from organisms whose genetic material has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, that is, through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.

Over the decades, controversies have trailed the health effects of these GM foods suggesting that they could pose a threat in the human body and the environment.

A recent study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) titled ‘Genetically Modified Foods: Safety, Risks and Public Concerns,’ postulates that consumption of these genetically engineered foods can cause the development of diseases which are immune to antibiotics, toxicity and allergenicity

The NCBI is part of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The study noted that the biggest threat caused by GM foods is that they can have harmful effects on the human body and, as these foods are new inventions, not much is known about their long-term effects on human beings.

As part of the controversy, many religious and cultural communities are against such foods because they see it as an unnatural way of producing foods. Again, many people are also not comfortable with the idea of transferring animal genes into plants and vice versa with the sole reason that cross-pollination method can cause damage to other organisms that thrive in the environment.

But the WHO has insisted that most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides can also allow for reductions in food prices through improved yields and reliability.

The WHO also said that in the future, genetic modification could be aimed at altering the nutrient content of food, reducing its allergenic potential and improving the efficiency of food production systems.

They also said GM foods currently available on the international market have no effects on human health because they have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.

However, the WHO strictly advised that all GM foods should be assessed before being allowed on the market.

Addressing the controversy, the Acting Director-General/Chief Executive Officer National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) Prof Alex Akpa said that the agency under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology was charged to implement the policy aimed at promoting, coordinating, and deployment of cutting-edge biotechnology research and development, processes, and products for the socio-economic well-being of the nation.

Akpa made the remarks at a retreat for Lagos-based Science Editors with the theme, ‘The Role of Editors in Communicating Biotechnology in Nigeria.’

According to him, there has been misleading information and news in the media by a group of arm-chair critics telling the people to avoid GMOs, that they can cause cancer, make humans grow horns can kill among others. He noted that the aim of all the campaign was to instill fear in Nigerian farmers and populace and ensure that farmers and people remain food insecure, poor and backward.

The acting DG further explained that they were mandated to promote biotechnology activities that positively respond to national aspirations on food security, job, wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery, and sustainable environment as well as coordinating and setting research and development priorities in biotechnology for Nigeria.

Similarly, Director General, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Egbegba, revealed that risk assessments are being carried out to make sure that any genetically modified organism is checked before it is released either for commercial purpose or unto the environment.

He stated that GM foods are developed to be pest resistant, have higher protein and vitamin content, be drought-resistant, cold tolerant and higher-yielding crops.

Egbegba said that the government on recognising the need for the safe adoption of biotechnology established the National Biosafety Management Agency through the NBMA Act, 2015.

“Modern biotechnology is one of the most regulated sectors in the world and it has immense potential to grow the economy. The need to make sure that the sector does not cause harm to humans and the environment gave rise to the regulation of the sector.

“The agency has been living up to the mandate in ensuring the safety to human health and the environment as regards the application of modern biotechnology and the use o GMOs,” the NBMA boss added.

Also, Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology Africa (OFAB) Nigeria, Dr. Rose Gidado, has said that the country can attain its food and nutrients challenges by the application of biotechnology in agriculture.

According to her, bio-fortified staple crops such as cassava, rice, maize and wheat harbour essential micronutrients to combat chronic diseases.

She noted that achieving sustainable economic development in Nigeria and Africa at large would continue to be a mirage without well-nourished and healthy people.

However, in Nigeria, malnutrition has resulted in the death of many citizens especially children especially within the age of one – five.

Gidado said although efforts have been applied towards improving the quality as well as the production of world food supplies, food insecurity remains prevalent particularly in the global southern nations of Asia and Africa.

The expert mentioned that by combining different types of technology the country could deliver solutions for food security challenges stressing that we could multiply the benefits when we combine solutions to solve problems and increase efficiency.

“We will need to grow as much food in the next 50 years as in the past 10,000 years combined. Also, rising population, changing climate, declining arable land and changing economic and deities threaten food supply,” Gidado noted.

She also stated that bio-fortified foods create a healthier environment from reduced insecticide spray and also reduced human health risk.

Akpa continued: “At NABDA, we have decided, based on our mandate to reverse the country’s heavy dependence on imported food. We cannot continue to import food and other staples when we have over 15 agricultural research institutes that have mandates to scientifically improve their crops.

“For the research institutes to fulfill their mandates and contribute meaningfully to the nation’s quest for self-sufficiency in food production, the media must support and protect them from anti-technology lobbyists.

“No nation has been able to develop without integrating science and technology into its development agenda and that is the path Nigeria is following now, the era of hoe and cutlass farming is over and we must adjust to current realities.”

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