The health angle of GMO crops for human consumption was succinctly dealt with in my previous articles. Testing of food safety of GMO a concept called “substantial equivalence”, which states that “the safety of a new food, particularly one that has been genetically modified, may be assessed by comparing it with a similar traditional food that has proven safe in normal use over time”. The concept was first introduced in an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publication in 1993. The concept stresses that an assessment of a novel food, in particular one that is genetically modified, should demonstrate that the food is as safe as its traditional counterpart.
The concept of substantial equivalence was developed proactively before any new genetically modified (GM) foods came to the market. It was first described in an OECD publication in 1992, produced by about 60 experts from 19 OECD countries, who spent more than two years discussing how to assess the safety of GM foods. Most of these experts, all nominated by governments, were regulatory scientists from government agencies and ministries responsible for consumer safety. In this approach, differences may be identified for further scrutiny, which can involve nutritional, toxicological and immunological testing.
The approach allows regulators to focus on the differences in a new variety and therefore on safety concerns of critical importance. Biochemical and toxicological tests are certainly not precluded. In this approach, differences may be identified for further scrutiny, which can involve nutritional, toxicological and immunological testing. The approach allows regulators to focus on the differences in a new variety and therefore on safety concerns of critical importance. Biochemical and toxicological tests are certainly not precluded.
In spite of the intensive safety test of GMO, we still have to be cautious and extra vigilant in dealing with product of genetic engineering. It is what we call “emergence issues” in engineering. The fact that there is no scientific evidence to prove that GMO crops are harmful for human consumption today, we may still have to conduct more research works on several variables with long period of observations. No effort is too much or too expensive when it comes to human health associated with food consumption.
Now back to my queries in the closing remark of last week piece: Is PBR cowpea safe to humanity? What are the efforts to make the PBR cowpea popularize?
To answer the safety issue of PBR cowpea, I wish paraphrase the article Dr. Rose Gidado who quoted Dr. francis Onyekachi, a reputable plant breeder with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation. He said “the Bt. Cowpea (PBR) developed in Nigeria cannot be differentiate from the ordinarily beans. The only difference is that PBR cowpea is resistant to the Maruca vitrata pest for which the beans was engineered to withstand”. He further added, “The modification carried out on the beans has nothing to do with its looks, taste, colour, size nor its nutritional composition. The Cowpea was only conferred with the resistance to the Maruca pest.” On the possibility of cancer-causing agent in PBR cowpea, another personality, Dr. Theodore Akpa, a food scientist said that singling out the Bt. Cowpea, as a cancer-causing agent is the highest level of ignorance, aimed at purely spreading falsehood.
“We have to understand that just because it was modified does not change it from what it was originally,” Dr Akpa said.
The development of the Bt. Cowpea (Beans), mainly to withstand the ravaging impact of Maruca, is a great feat on the part of Nigerian scientists and they should be celebrated rather than discrediting their 10-year effort to uplift Nigeria. Corroborating on the safety issue, Prof Ishiauku Mohammed, a Professor of plant breeding, Executive Director of IAR, ABU Zaria who led the research pointed out clearly that the rules of substantial equivalence applied in the development of the Bt. Beans (PBR Cowpea). According to Mohammed, all the research efforts that went into the production of the Cowpea (Beans) was conducted by Nigerian scientists using tax payers money from the university, how then will they engineer a crop to kill Nigerians.
Still on safety, the Nigerian government has already taken care of the ill-fated public concerns of the GMO technology like environmental concerns, human health concerns, socio-economic concerns, cultural issues, religious issues among others through the provision of a strong biosafety regulatory system.
This makes genetically modified products the most extensively regulated products all over the world. Biosafety regulation is intended to diminish or eradicate the possible harmful effects of modern biotechnology on the environment, biodiversity and human health using, policies, laws and guidelines. It also helps to determine in advance when hazards to human health and natural systems will result if any particular Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is released into the environment, anticipate when a given GMO or any of its product(s) will be harmful if it becomes part of human food, and detect whether a GMO will actually yield the benefits it was designed to provide.
Nigeria developed her biosafety system, which is consolidated legally through the assenting of the National Biosafety Management Agency Act, 2015 bill into law. This Act led to the establishment of the only competent Authority in Nigeria, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) that has the responsibility for providing regulatory framework for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology and its products like GMOs with the view to preventing any adverse effects on human health, animals and the environment and as well as sustaining the biodiversity.
Conclusively, we have to welcome first food crop GMO developed in Nigeria for Nigerians and beyond. Bravo the biotechnologists in Nigeria