Amid Growing Anxiety, FG Reassures on Safety of Tela Maize, Others

James Emejo in Abuja

The federal government yesterday reassured Nigerians that the newly unveiled Tela Maize varieties remained safe for consumption.
The maize seeds were produced through genetic engineering by renowned local research institutions including African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and other partners.
The crop varieties had proven to be high-yielding, conferring resistance to major pests including stem borers and fall army worm, and has moderate drought tolerance.
But environmental and nutrition activists have continued to raise concerns about the safety of genetically modified food crops for human consumption, claiming they have been linked with cancers and other related ailments – claims that are yet to be scientifically proven.
However, addressing journalists on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) technology in agriculture, heads of agricultural institutions related to the production and release of the biotech crops including Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), National Biotechnology Research and Development Agency (NBRDA) and National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) – all beat their chests that the home-grown scientific breakthrough remained harmless.
Executive Secretary/Chief Executive, ACRN, Prof. Garba Sharubutu, said the tela maize research had followed all the safety protocols as enshrined in the biosafety regulations and “we therefore declared that the GM crops are safe for human consumption”.
He said the research institutes have the mandate for genetic improvement of all staple and cash crops livestock and fisheries, adding that in achieving these mandate, the application of agricultural biotechnology in their research offers a novel way to develop varieties of crop plants and livestock breeds that are resilient to stresses arises from the impact of climate change and the quest to increase crop productivity by addressing farming problems.
The ARCN boss pointed out that biotechnology had been used successfully to increase productivity in corn, soybean and cotton by combating insect pests and drought in other parts of the world including USA, Europe, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.
He said, “Our research institutes have collaborated with other research institutions across the globe in their research activities and have come up with best innovations, for instance Nigeria and Malaysia are working in the area of oil palm.
“The Nigerian research system on its own has used modern biotechnology to come up with genetically modified (GM) cotton, cowpea, and maize varieties which are safe for both human consumption and industrial use.

“The first research breakthrough in the application of biotechnology to improve crops in Nigeria is the development and release of Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea by the Institute of Agricultural Research Samaru Zaria.

“Most cowpea producing areas in Nigeria are highly infested by this destructive insect pest leading to about 70 per cent damage in farmer’s fields. PBR cowpea is resistant to this insect pest therefore drastically improves cowpea production in Nigeria following large-scale adoption by farmers.”

Director General/Chief Executive, NBMA, Dr. Agnes Yemisi, Asagbra said as the country’s sole authority on biosafety matters, it enforces standards, guidelines, and risk assessment procedures for GMOs.

She said while concerns exist about long-term effects of genetically engineered crops, the current scientific consensus—supported by the NBMA—was that “GMO foods approved for consumption in Nigeria are safe”.

Asagbra said, “This is because rigorous risk assessments guide our decisions. Before granting approvals for any genetically modified organism (GMO), NBMA conducts rigorous risk assessments.

“These assessments evaluate potential risks to human health, the environment, and biodiversity. The process involves scientific experts who analyse data, conduct experiments, and assess the safety of the GMO in question. The NBMA considers factors such as allergenicity, toxicity, and unintended effects resulting from genetic modifications.

“GMOs undergo thorough evaluation before approval. We consider their impact on human health, animal welfare, and the environment. Our goal is to strike a balance between innovation and safety.”

She said GMOs should be recognised as “tools—not solutions—in our quest for sustainable agriculture and as such NBMA remains steadfast in its duty to protect citizens while harnessing the potential of biotechnology for our collective benefit”.

She added that the agency’s commitment to safety involved thorough risk assessments, scientific consensus, transparency, ongoing monitoring, and adherence to global norms, adding that “Our goal remains the protection of Nigerians while harnessing the benefits of modern biotechnology.”

On his part, Director General/Chief Executive, NBRDA, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, the commercial release of tela maize was expected to enhance food security in sub-Saharan Africa by increasing crop yield, enhancing resilience to pests and diseases, reducing environmental impact and improving nutritional content for the health benefit of the populace.

He said having gone through rigorous testing and evaluation processes to ensure its safety for consumption and the environment, “Tela Maize is safe and not harmful to humans and the environment”.

Mustapha further noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have stated that GMOs are safe for human and animal consumption, adding that the Nigerian government had taken a positive stance on GMOs and their safety.

According to him, the technology behind GMOs, known as modern biotechnology or genetic engineering, allows for the transfer of selected individual genes from one organism to another.

He said, “This process has been thoroughly studied and tested, and there is no evidence or data to indicate that GMOs are harmful to human health. Therefore, Nigerians have nothing to worry about.

“By adopting and adapting genetically modified crops, Nigeria can increase food security, improve crop yields, and reduce the use of harmful pesticides.

“It is time to move past the fear and skepticism surrounding GMOs and embrace this cutting-edge technology for the benefit of all Nigerians.”

He also stated that NBRDA was playing a key role in addressing the challenges of hunger, malnutrition, and poverty in the country and contributing to a more resilient and sustainable agricultural sector that benefits both farmers and consumers.

Also, in his remarks, acting Director General/Chief Executive, NASC, Dr. Khalid Ishiak, said the council superintends over different scientific breakthroughs in seeds.

He said, “We have the bio fortified seeds which address nutrient deficiency, gene edited seeds and the Genetically modified seeds. All these go through rigorous joint evaluations for their contents and makeup before been released into the market.

“On the issue of Genetically Modified Seeds (GMOs) – I want to assure the farmers and the seed community that the NASC as the third-party guarantor for seeds in Nigeria participated in the processes leading to the approval by the National Variety Release Committee for commercialisation of the GM materials so far developed in Nigeria.  

“As the practice for the non-GM seeds, the NASC will continue to exercise its mandate in regulating all classes of seeds produced for commercialisation in Nigeria.

“Again, we want to assure the farmers that it is safe to use these seeds and the seed council in collaboration with relevant institutions is open to addressing the concerns of farmers and seed producers as they may arise.”

On his part, President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr. Kabiru Ibrahim, said genetic engineering was meant to benefit humanity and not to cause any harm to the people.

He said those speaking against GMOs have no proven cases against the innovation which is expected to not only empower farmers economically but also boost food security.

He added that Nigerian farmers are already at home with Tela maize and other GMOs.

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