In a step that suggests further more decisive action, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has issued a seven-day ultimatum to department stores in the Federal Capital Territory to withdraw all Genetically Modified (GM) food items from their shelves.
The Director General of the agency, Rufus Ebegba, gave the ultimatum in Abuja on Friday during a meeting with department store operators in the FCT.
Mr. Ebegba said the move was in line with the mandate of the agency to ensure safety of human health and the environment.
The director general said the agency would not hesitate to shut down or prosecute the management of any departmental store that failed to abide by the directive or contravened its Act.
He said the meeting was to intimate the operators on the provisions of the Act establishing the agency so that they would not feign ignorance of it.
“This is in line with the Act of the agency to refocus Nigeria in the area of modern biotechnology practice to ensure proper regulation for safety of human consumption and the environment.
According to him, no GMO should be in any of the supermarket stores, either labelled or not, until permits are obtained from the agency.
“We have segmented our meeting with stakeholders particularly those in the food and agriculture sector.
“This meeting is for them to understand that some of their products need to be properly ascertained before they are imported so that they will not run foul of the law.
“We are aware that some of these stores import foods from countries that are already consuming GMs.
“We understand the economic benefits of these stores to the Nigerian economy, especially in the areas of job creation and markets, but we must know that the law is not a respecter of persons.
“The idea that Nigerian laws are not being implemented by government agencies should be ruled out of this.
“NBMA will not make the mistake in the enforcement of this. We are very serious about this,’’ he said.
Mr. Ebegba said the agency was currently working with the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and National Agriculture Quarantine Service (NAQS) to ensure that permits were adequately issued.
Umar Yahaya, the Customer Service/Surveillance Manager of NEXT Cash and Carry Mall, appealed to the agency to provide guidelines for the permit to enable operators comply with the laws.
Mr. Yahaya, who declined further comments, said that appropriate measures would be taken by the management of the store.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that representatives from Shoprite, a South African-based chain stores operating across the country also attended the meeting.