Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court has issued a stay against issuance of licences for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until the licence issuing authority is granted legal cover.
Justice Shah issued the order on a petition by the Kisan Board of Pakistan (KBP) challenging the continued supervision of the National Bio Safety Committee (NBSC) by the federal government even after the devolution of authority to provinces under the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
The petitioner had submitted that the NBSC was under the purview of the provincial government after the amendment and its supervision by the federal government was unconstitutional.
The KBP had also challenged the 12th meeting of the NBSC held on March 12. In the meeting, the committee had considered applications for commercialisation of 23 varieties of BT cotton and applications for genetically modified corn.
The petitioner asserted that after devolution of the environment portfolio to provincial governments, the NBSC was no longer legally competent to sit, let alone approve licences for GMOs.
Petitioner’s counsel Advocate Ahmed Rafay Aalam said many of the varieties seeking commercial licences had not been subject to proper laboratory and field tests, and were being hastily pushed through the approval process in violation of environmental safeguards prescribed by the Cartagena Protocol – an international agreement that Pakistan was a party to that regulated the use of GMOs.
After the 18th Amendment, environment pollution and ecology were devolved to the provinces.
No province in Pakistan has taken steps to provide for a new GMO regulatory regime, creating a legal vacuum, he said.
When the federal government directed the Climate Change Division to convene a meeting of the NBSC earlier this year, the KBP filed the petition, said Aalam. It feared the post-18th Amendment legal vacuum was being exploited by seed distributors, who wanted to flood the market with sub-standard BT cotton seeds through licences from the NBSC.
During the proceedings, representatives of the Textile Industries Division and the Director General, and Pakistan Environment Protection Agency were also present. The Textile Industries Division submitted that nearly 85 per cent of the cotton in Pakistan was BT cotton, but there was rampant use of unapproved BT cotton seeds that needed regularisation. The PEPA director general said the PEPA treated GMOs very seriously as they were a potential biological weapon.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2014.
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