An Act to Provide for the Management of Biosafety and other related matters, 2007

  • By Mariam Mayet July 2009

Environmental Rights Action (ERA) (Friends of the Earth, Nigeria) has approached the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) to provide them with our comments on the latest draft of their country’s biosafety bill. The ACB has in the past, provided formal and informal advice on various drafts of Nigeria’s Biosafety Bill.

ERA has been actively engaged in the anti-GM struggle in Nigeria and several parts of Africa and has done a great deal of advocacy and lobby work on biosafety issues. These comments are a small contribution to the exemplary work of ERA. Key Findings Nigeria’s Biosafety Bill is unique and embodies a great deal of originality and authenticity, sorely missing in other African Biosafety laws.

It does appear to have travelled a truly Nigerian journey and does not exhibit the traits of US interference found in other Biosafety Bills we have worked on earlier this year. The Bill is extremely fond of creating institutions and “over-regulation by institutions” – so that a great many responsibilities, biosafety over-sight and monitoring functions are carried out by a range of players. The law cleverly ensures that government is able to hold clearly identified and identifiable persons responsible for GMO activities in public and private institutions and bodies involved in GMO related activities.

This also ensures that such institutions regulate themselves and that very little, if any, real monitoring takes place by the government agencies. The Bill exhibits a distinct policy position on GMOs; that GMOs can be made safe if properly and holistically regulated. This position is enshrined in the embrace of the principle of substantial equivalence. For Nigeria, discussion on whether or not GMOs are an appropriate developmental intervention appears to be moot. It appears as if the National Biodiversity Management Agency is required to pass secondary legislation setting out specific requirements for each and every activity required to be permitted (e.g. for import, export, transit, contained use, confined field trial and commercial release), before the permitting system established by the Act can come into force.

The legislation contains several important provisions dealing with the biosafety of products of GMOs being imported into Nigeria. However, these provisions will be of no force and effect unless Nigeria puts in place a sound and effective set of mandatory labelling regulations. It is clear that GMOs and products of GMOs imported for direct use as food, feed and industrial processing have been singled out for special consideration, as if Nigeria anticipates that this area will see the most activity in Nigeria?

The Bill contains a number of interesting and clear provisions relating to access to information and confidential business information. These provisions should be shared with other countries that are in the process of developing or reviewing their biosafety laws. A major shortcoming of the legislation is that only an aggrieved applicant is given the right to appeal against a decision of the Agency.

No comparable right is given to interested and affected parties who may be adversely affected by a decision. Special attention should be devoted to crafting a liability and redress regime. It is not clear when a full environmental impact assessment will be required to be carried out, and this should be made clearer in the law.

Special monitoring and reporting functions that vest in the Agency must be clearly drafted in the legislation. More attention should be given to implementing the provisions of the Biosafety Protocol regarding illegal and unintentional transboundary movements and so forth.

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