ISLAMABAD: In contradiction to the claim of two senior ministers in the National Assembly, the federal government has granted permission to multinational companies for commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) corn seeds in Pakistan.
In this regard, the Ministry of Climate Change has awarded licences to different companies including Monsanto and DuPont/Pioneer.
Sources in the ministry said the government gave the go-ahead without conducting a large-scale open field trial of the technology, which is a violation of the national bio-safety laws and the international standard operating procedures.
However, in response to a point of order raised by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MNA Dr Arif Alvi in the National Assembly last week, two federal ministers Khurram Dastgir and Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan categorically denied that the government had given licence to any multinational company for commercial trial of GM corn seeds in the country.
Sources in the climate change ministry and experts claim that without large-scale open field trials no authority can approve the commercialisation of GM corn or any other GM crop and Pakistan has become a unique example that has given approval.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Monsanto Pakistan acknowledged that the government had recently allowed it commercialisation of GM corn in Pakistan.
Experts say GM corn or maize is a dangerous crop because of cross-pollination that can contaminate other non-GM crops within a range of 200 to 500 metres. Apparently, the climate change minister had come under pressure from certain companies, which led to the grant of licences.
“Yes, the government has permitted the use of our GM corn on a commercial basis after a long and rigorous process starting from 2009,” said Aamir Mirza, an official of Monsanto. “The government has accepted our two technologies namely Insect Protection and Herbicide Tolerant.”
Sources said instead of field trials by involving farmers, small-scale tests in confined areas were conducted in certain government institutions and universities.
No insect resistance management programme was considered and no proper Refugia was planned, they said. Refugia means a 5-10% area covered by a crop where non-GM seeds are cultivated to delay resistance.
By not considering these issues, the government has endangered the GM corn crop, especially keeping in view the fact that 30-40% of the crop is consumed in Pakistan. Monsanto claims that a monitoring sub-committee had visited fields for assessment of trials a number of times in each growing season to collect data and evaluate compliance. It has regularly been submitting season-wise and yearly reports to the technical assessment committee and other relevant departments and ministries.
Throughout this period, Monsanto said, it had followed a proper procedure for seeking approval from the National Bio-diversity Company and it only went for seed imports and field trials after the approval was received.
Commenting on the development, the ex-chief of Pakistan Environment Protection Agency Asif Shuja said the decision had been taken in haste without following due procedure and proper risk assessment, which would have far-reaching implications in the future.
“Our laboratories are not in a position to handle the situation and our institutions are also not capable enough to properly monitor and regulate the GM corn crop,” he said.
Shuja asked who would monitor the technology and gather data as currently there was no functional National Bio-safety Centre.
“GM corn is used in multiple items of daily use and there is a need to take extraordinary care,” he noted.
He emphasised the need for a proper risk assessment of the new technology and whether the manpower, institutions and system could tackle the challenge.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2016.
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