THE National Biosafety Authority has advised people to take an interest in reading the labels for the products they purchase to know through an informed decision whether to buy genetically modified products.
NBA board chairperson Dr Paul Zambezi said at a media briefing on Tuesday that Zambia at the moment has only allowed processed foods made from GMOs, and genetically modified micro-organisms for diagnostics and health research purposes.
Dr Zambezi explained that Zambia in 2002 rejected the donated genetically modified maize because it had no capacity in terms of human resource and infrastructure to ascertain whether the products containing or made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were safe for the humans, animals and the environment.
“The 2002 saga is what led to the birth of the biosafety Act and the NBA. Currently Zambia has the capacity to assess the safety and use of genetically modified organisms in a judicious way. As such, Zambia does allow the products made from genetically modified organisms. The country has been allowing these products since 2015 after the establishment of the NBA and these are only allowed into the country after a risk assessment has been conducted to ascertain the safety of the products. Some of the parameters considered during the risk assessment are extent of toxicity as well as ability to cause allergies. The other parameter considered is the nutritional composition of the products,” he said.
He said some of the products that may contain or are made from GMOs that have been authorised in the country include food, feed and pharmaceuticals (research trials).
“The NBA does not promote or prohibit GMOs but regulates the use, application, import, export, research, transit and development of GMOs. This is done in accordance with the biosafety Act,” he said.
And Dr Zambezi said in accordance with the biosafety Act, permit issuance was a rigorous process that takes 130 days before a permit can be issued.
“The process starts with assessing the completeness of the applications, followed by public and stakeholder consultation. Thereafter, a team of Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) members sits to evaluate the safety of the intended product/s or research to be undertaken based on scientific evidence only. During the evaluation by the SAC, comparison is also made with products that are authorised internationally and are listed on the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) and the food and agricultural genetically modified platform under the United Nations,” he said. “A permit is rejected if the product/s is/are not safe for the humans, animals and the environment. And a permit can be withdrawn if the importer defaults or is non complaint with the provisions of the biosafety Act 10 of 2007.”
He said the NBA serves to safeguard the interest of the Zambian people and ensures that human beings, animals and the environment are safe as per mandated in the act.
“All permits that have been issued so far underwent the rigorous risk assessment. So far the NBA has been conducting awareness and sensitization programmes to ensure the public makes an informed decision when purchasing any product that may be genetically modified,” said Dr Zambezi.