Jurisdiction issues: GMO licensing stay order suspended

Kisan Board had challenged National Biosafety Committee’s operation.

Our Correspondent July 28, 2014


A division bench of Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday suspended the operation of a single bench order whereby it had stayed issuance of licences for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The bench, headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, issued the directive on a petition by the federation of Pakistan and the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (PEPA) director general.

The PEPA had challenged the May 13 stay order issued by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah on a Kisan Board Pakistan (KBP) petition challenging the functioning of National Biosafety Committee (NBC) under the federal government.

The petitioner had submitted that like many other government functionaries, the NBC’s operation was a provincial subject after the 18th Amendment was passed.

Its functioning under the federal government was unconstitutional, the petition had said.

The KBP had also challenged the convening of an NBC meeting on March 12, 2014, in which the relevant committee had considered applications for the commercialisation of 23 varieties of Bt cotton and genetically-modified corn.

The petition asserted that after the 2010 devolution of environment protection to provincial governments, the NBC was no longer competent to sit, let alone approve licences for GMOs.

Advocate Ahmed Rafay Aalam, the petitioner’s counsel, said several varieties for which commercial licences had been sought had not gone through proper laboratory and field tests.

He said these were being hastily pushed through an approval process in violation of environmental safeguards prescribed by the Cartagena Protocol, an international agreement that regulates the use of GMOs.

Even though the 18th Amendment was passed in 2010, no province has taken steps to provide for a new GMO regulatory regime, leading to a legal vacuum.

When the federal government directed the Climate Change Division to convene a meeting of the NBC earlier this year, the KBP filed the petition, the lawyer said.

He feared the post-18th Amendment legal vacuum was being exploited by seed distributors who he said wanted to flood the market with substandard Bt cotton seeds.

Representatives of the Textile Industries Division also attended the hearing. They submitted that nearly 85 per cent of cotton sown in Pakistan was Bt cotton… so that the rampant use of unapproved Bt cotton seeds needed regularisation.

The PEPA DG said the agency treated GMOs seriously on account of their potential to be used as potential biological weapons.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2014.


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