WATCH THAT FOOD!

 
With the establishment of the National Biosafety Agency, the government is set to embrace the development of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) products. Are Nigerians truly ready for this? Samuel Oyejola writes

Is there a relationship between biology and technology? Should such relationship be strengthened? Perhaps it should. However,  when this relationship extends to food and fruits consumed by humans, shouldn’t there be a limit to the merger of biology and technology?

This has been the debate all over the globe for decades. Technology,  like tsunami,  is sweeping through all spheres of human understanding and invention. From health to electronic, weather, and the economy, even mechanical engineering is not left out of this revolution. But should food substance be biologically engineered?

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) used for products that are biologically engineered is here with us. It stares  at us like image through the mirror. These products which have moved from its natural state to more synthetic and artificial state   are processed in order to be able to adapt such organisms to cope with a more pressing demand of consumption.

The primary aim is to alter an organism that would have otherwise grown naturally to grow within and with artificial requirement in order to  ensure  higher productivity. This GMO is used to generate food crops that are finally processed for consumption for the end user.

By implication, products from GMOs are faster to produce and are massive in yield and productivity. It literally bridges the gap of scarcity between demand and supply by allowing lower prices and more consumption.

With Nigeria moving all arsenals towards the agriculture sector  and ensuring food supply and sustenance,  technologists are of the opinion that GMO products may be the panacea  needed to ensure food security in the country.

Nigeria may be moving toward this direction considering the recent establishment of the Biosafety Development Agency.  That the country would take a step further to this development should be applauded although  critical areas and challenges that will arise as a result of this development should not be ignored.

For instance, why is Nigeria embracing a technology that is being banned in some other advanced countries of the world? What would be the fate of farmers who are illiterate? Despite the availability of mechanical equipment for farming, most farmers in Nigeria still cling to manual farming.
How would consumers know what products are genetically modified and which are natural? Is Nigeria really ripe for this stage of biotechnology development?  Are the relevant agencies truly equipped to regulate this product and its production?

Is government considering  the health implication of these products on Nigerians?
Technologically advanced Japan barred the planting of genetically modified foods in the country. Ireland also  banned all such crops from cultivation in 2009.

Is the government capable of responding to the health implication of these products on Nigerians when the chips are down? Considering the level of healthcare in the country and the state of  government hospitals and primary health centers, is the country  prepared given the current mortality rate in the country?

While the country is looking toward agricultural development, Nigeria needs  not rush into embracing  GMO until all immediate and remote consequences are observed.

When eventually these products are finally on the shelves, the government must ensure that sincerity is adopted in the packaging as products that are genetically modified are clearly  labeled as such.

Government agencies like Biosafety and NIBDA should not rest on their oars in watching the activities of organizations involved in the production of such products.

No matter the economic benefits inherent  in the use of  this technology, the health of Nigerians is not negotiable on the platform of food availability though genetically engineered products.

This article was first published by TIME NIGERIA MAGAZINE