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[ABUJA] Nigeria's national biosafety bill has been passed by the country's upper house.

The Senate agreed earlier this month (1 June) that the bill should be harmonised with a version passed by the lower chamber in July 2009.

Supporters of genetically modified (GM) crop technology recently expressed concern that their efforts to get the bill passed were going nowhere, particularly as the government was approaching the end of its tenure. They said the country had a culture of poor continuity between outgoing and incoming governments which made it unlikely that the bill would be resurrected by the new administration.

But opposers say that this month's enactment of the bill — two days before the end of Nigeria's sixth national assembly — results from a hidden foreign agenda to legalise GM organisms.

Mariann Bassey, food and agrofuels programme manager for the Nigerian advocacy group Environmental Rights Action, called for a transparent process that includes the views of all stakeholders, "not one that is shoved down our throats by biotech agents".

She urged President Goodluck Jonathan to withhold his assent until the bill has been subjected to public scrutiny.

"Corporations and multi-national companies should not be allowed to dictate corporate-driven food and agricultural policies that undermine sustainable agriculture. The future of the whole world is [in] small-scale agriculture, and GM crops do not make room for this," she told SciDev.Net.

Bassey said the bill has been "kept under wraps and away from public scrutiny".

But Rufus Ebegba, a senior official at the National Biosafety Office of the Federal Ministry of Environment, insisted that the bill was the product of wide consultations among stakeholders.

"The biosafety bill is robust and will provide a holistic approach for the practice and regulation of modern biotechnology in the country."

He said that Nigeria must play a leading role in the regulation of biotechnology on the continent.

"The biosafety law [will] be a major milestone for ensuring the safe application of modern biotechnology, and the safe handling and use of GM organisms."

Ebegba added that the law also conformed to the model biosafety law developed by the African Union to help member states develop their own biosafety laws.

Ajayi Boroffice, a member of the newly inaugurated seventh senate, said that the bill would have a positive impact on the economy.