To give or not to give patents to plant breeders?

Published: May 23, 2012

" 80% of 5,000 varieties of seeds patented by companies in the US in 2012 were from Pakistan and India," Centre for Culture and Development Advisor Dr Nadeem Omar.

LAHORE: 

Different views were presented at a seminar on Tuesday on the Plant Breeder Rights (PBR) Bill 2012, pending in the National Assembly (NA) since March 2012, and the impact of genetically modified (GM) seeds on indigenous crop varieties in Pakistan.

The seminar titled ‘Biodiversity Under Threat: Traditional Knowledge and Plant Breeders Rights Bill,’ was held at the HRCP office with Sajjad Bhutta, the Director General of the Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) of Pakistan as chief guest.

Bhutta concluded the seminar by inviting “think thanks and parliamentarians to initiate a national forum to discuss effective amendments in the PBR,” to protect indigenous seed species and stop the import of GM seeds which pose environmental hazards.

‘CBD provisions need to be included’

Event moderator Dr Nadeem Omar and advisor to the Centre for Culture and Development introduced various clauses of the PBR Bill 2012.

He said that BT Cotton, a GM cotton seed introduced in India in 2000s, caused 160,000 farmer suicides in India in four states over 12 years.

“The seeds promise lucrative profits but destroy the ability of the soil to cultivate other seeds,” he said. He said that multinational companies were involved in bio-piracy, by securing patents for existing seed varieties. “80 per cent of 5,000 varieties of seeds patented by companies in the United States in 2012 were from Pakistan and India,” he said.

Speaking about the PBR Bill, Omar said that the bill acknowledged the TRIPS agreement which was ‘pro-corporation’ but none of its clauses acknowledged the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), which recognises farmer and community rights to seeds.

‘Local breeders need protection too’

IPO Pakistan Deputy Director Mohammad Ismail said that only four of 600 seed breeder companies registered in Pakistan are multinationals.

The government should protect the rights of both farmers and breeders, he said.

Agri-Forum Pakistan president Ibrahim Mughal pointed to a decrease in global crop yields between 2008 and 2010 despite the use of GM seeds to cultivate wheat and cotton.

He said that GM seeds must be imported on condition that the technology shall be transferred to Pakistan.

“GM seeds should be imported only if they produce higher yields,” he said.

Aqeela Naz, a farmer from Khanewal, said that after using GM seeds to cultivate BT cotton, women pickers began to develop more health problems due to increased use of pesticides.

“The picking season also changed from winter-to-spring to spring-to-early summer,” she said.

She said Pakistani farmer suicide rates would soon exceed India.

South Asia Partnership (SAP-PK) Deputy Director Irfan Mufti said talked about the ‘impulsive’ reaction by Pakistani delegates at World Trade Organisation (WTO) forums and how it negatively affected local farmers.

He said at the last three forums, at Cancun, Doha and Hong Kong, he observed that the Pakistani delegates “act suddenly and become signatories without taking a negotiating position of their own”.

He said that our ministers had no mandate without consulting farmers and agricultural experts on the subject of importing GM seeds.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2012. 

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Reader Comments (4)

  • May 23, 2012 - 12:59PM

    It is sad to see this report, as it completely missed what I, as one of the panelists, said. I spoke on the importance of corporate farming and GM in expanding the food basket of the world, and presented a liberal view for globalization. I said that we can opt to choose the bio-diversity, at the heart of PBR, but possibly at the cost of food security. This was not the mainstream view of the roundtable and perhaps I was singled out by the reporter, and she decided not to even mention that I spoke at this event. There are other problems in this report as well, and show that the ET correspondent was herself a part of the debate, instead of objectively reporting what was said in the event.

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  • Abdul Qayyum Bhatti
    May 23, 2012 - 3:36PM

    @ Ali Salman

    The news report is surprising to me even. I had impression that we can increase per acre production from 40 to 100 by using GM seeds but i was shaken by learning from this report that after using GM seeds, our fields will bear only the specific GM production as it has mentioned in the case of BT Cotton. If this is the case with other GM crops like, wheat, rice etc then we should not go for GM seeds.
    It is sad to learn that the reporter has “singled out” you. If she did so then,surely it is not objective reporting. It is against the Journalistic ethics to not to report what you don’t like. Recommend

  • Haroon Rashid
    May 28, 2012 - 7:16PM

    BT and GM food are not even categorised separately in the shelves of Metro AG., the world’s third largest chain store and the largest international chain operating in Pakistan. The advertising code of conduct is missing. The corn, crop, seeds of GM are not labeled at Metro.
    Now come the opportunity of time. The opportunity is grabbed by the trans national, MNC’s in their filing of patents, and there is nothing left for us in Pakistan to claim our own research, whether it be livestock. The best milking cow are from Australia after cross breeding. And now being imported from Australia under US AID assistance.
    AT the WTO forums the representation is the worst, with accepting all what is being asked for signing and accepting.
    Public representative, scientists should visit the WTO to know their rights.
    This is an excellent article and should be more visible on electronic media with programs from WIPO.

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  • John B
    May 31, 2012 - 9:16PM

    “80 per cent of 5,000 varieties of seeds patented by companies in the United States in 2012 were from Pakistan and India,” he said.

    If that is the case two issues are clear to a person with little common sense.

    (1) Since 80% of them are from the subcontinent , then there should not be any problem in using them as they are native seeds any way, right?(part of natural diversity).

    (2). There should have been augmented yield of these “native” seeds naturally,prior to the development of GM seeds.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Please provide DNA data. Whether PAK wants to use GM seeds are not is a different issue. But false data in a policy decision forum is not healthy.

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