Biosafety Authority continues to issue GMO importation permits
National Biosafety Authority - NBA has continued to issue Genetically Modified Organism - GMO importation permits. This was established through an exclusive interview with NBA Communications Officer, Sandra Lombe.
Lombe said that the authority ensures that any activity involving the use of a product of or GMO is safe for humans, animals and the environment as well as promote public awareness and education concerning the activities regulated under this Act, through the publication of guidance and other materials that explain and elaborate on the risk assessment, risk management and authorization processes.
GMOs are only allowed in Zambia once they have undergone risk assessment and have been authorized by the NBA and that permits have to be granted for products made from or containing GMOs, she said.
"Distributors, suppliers and researchers are believed to be bringing products that may contain GMOs or are made from genetically modified organisms," she said.
Lombe disclosed that whoever has to bring in GMOs in the country needs a permit from the NBA and so far 23 permits have been issued since 2015 to various companies for the importation and or placing on the market of products that may contain genetically modified organisms. The import permits are valid for 5 years while permits for placing on the market range between three to six months to ensure compliance and prevent companies from contravening the law.
African Supermarkets Limited (trading as Shoprite), Zambian Brands, Cold Chain Limited, Carnival Foods, Pick n Pay, Choppies Superstores, Comox Trading and Horizon Distributors are among those who have permits to port products of GMOs.
"The NBA does not bring GMOs in the country but regulates the use and development of GMOs in Zambia in a judicious way to maximize the benefits of modern biotechnology whilst ensuring safety for the animals, humans and the environment,” Lombe emphasized.
She said as an agency established through an Act of Parliament, the NBA serves the interests of consumers, producers, stakeholders involved in modern biotechnology and the general public.
NBA is a government statutory body which falls under the Ministry of Higher Education and is funded by the Ministry of Finance through the MOHE faces quite a number of challenges which include the misinformation about GMOs exemplified by the notion that any huge agricultural product such as a big orange is said to be GMO when not and the low level of qualified personnel to utilize and give scientific views on GMO in terms of advantages and disadvantages
"In order to assist in creating awareness on GMOs, we have intensified sensitisations and awareness programmes with stakeholders, clients and the public" Lombe said.
Lombe further disclosed that NBA has recorded two offences since last year 2017. One regarding products not well labelled and the other a superstore did not have permits to import and place on the markets GMOs products they were selling which were confiscated and destroyed.
"It is prohibited for a person to import genetically modified organisms for use as food or feed processing or as a pharmaceutical unless the importation is duly authorized by the Authority. Permission to import is only granted after such products have been assessed that they pose no risk to human, animals and the environment, failure to obtain a permit from NBA can attract a fine of 500,000 penalty units or 15 - years imprisonment or both", Lombe said.
Meanwhile, according to a press statement issued by the Authority's Communication Officer, stated that NBA has granted chain store Choppies superstores a permit to import products that may contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Choppies Superstores made an application for the importation of products that are made from GMOs or may contain GMOs in May this year.
"Among the products the chain store will import and place on the market include Instant Choppies Porridge (three different flavours including Original and Strawberry), Chilli Beef Flavoured Soup, Oxtail Flavoured Soup, Chakalaka Flavoured Soup, Brown Onion Soup and Choppies Corn Flakes", she stated.
The NBA Board, during their last meeting held Friday July 6, 2018, approved the application for a permit to import products that may contain GMOs by Choppies Superstores following a recommendation from the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC).
The SAC of the NBA met in June this year, and among other issues, reviewed and considered the Choppies Superstores permit application. The SAC, after conducting a risk assessment, found that the products that Choppies Superstores sought to import did not contain toxins and allergens that might cause harm to the humans, animals and the environment.
And in April this year the NBA accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Health, Lusaka City Council and the police swung into action and pounced on the unsuspecting Lake Road and Ibex Choppies Superstores confiscating food products worth over ZMW21,000 which were brought in the country and placed on the market without obtaining approval from the Authority. The chain store was also directed to withdraw all products containing GMOs from the shelves across the country that were being sold without prior approval from the Authority.
The NBA in the presence of Choppies officials and law enforcement agencies destroyed the products which were confiscated from Superstores since they were not subjected to risk assessment, prior to their importation, in order to ascertain their safety as food or feed.
NBA further encouraged and advised wholesalers, distributors and suppliers to ensure that they give copies of permits for import or placing on the market to retailers and traders they supply genetically modified products to avoid being inconvenienced or penalized.
The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) was established under the Biosafety Act N0. 10 of 2007 and its mandate is to regulate the research, development, application, import, export, transit, contained use, release or placing on the market of any Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) whether intended for use as a pharmaceutical, food, feed or processing, or a product of a GMO.