LAHORE: Debate on food laced with genetically modified organisms took a new twist as soybean importers refused to accept the Department of Plant Protection’s demand for testing consignments,...
LAHORE: Debate on food laced with genetically modified organisms (GMO) took a new twist as soybean importers refused to accept the Department of Plant Protection’s demand for testing consignments, official sources told The News on Saturday.
A senior official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research confirmed that following a suspicion officially expressed by the Customs authorities about import of GM soybean, the Plant Protection Department asked importers to get the consignment tested for ascertaining seed type etc. However, he said that a deadlock was created due to the refusal of the importers to get their consignments tested.
“We cannot allow to release consignment of soybean without following regulation mechanism,” he stressed. “Without any risk assessment, how can we allow imported cargoes on the insistence of the import lobby,” he posed a question.
Non-GMO soybean was available globally though at a little extra cost. “Why can the importers or processers not buy non-GMO soybean, which is allowed for consumption in the country? It is a clear stance of the ministry to not allow import of banned food in the country come what may,” he emphasised.
The real stakeholder in this connection has been the Ministry of Climate Change. As per protocol followed by the relevant ministry, importers should certify that soybean was not GMO, and if otherwise, the whole cargo gets rejected.
The official cautioned that a lobby was also active to get GMO seeds introduced in the country. “Once import consignment containing GMO soybean was cleared,” he warned, it might open the floodgate of GMO produce in the country, greatly harming non-GMO status of the country.
On the other hand, insiders claimed that the Ministry of Commerce in fact wanted to slowdown imports in order to reduce the trade deficit, terming of the main reasons behind applying non-tariff barrier (NTF) over import of soybean into the country.
Nonetheless, Tariq Bashir Cheema, Minister for National Food Security adopted a decisive approach and rejected the importers’ demand to allow the release of imported soybean that has been stuck at the port for the last several weeks. He made it clear that the import of genetically modified soybeans was not permitted in Pakistan. Only import of non-GMO soybean has been allowed into the country. It was learnt that the US ambassador also called on the federal minister for the clearance of soybean vessels, but without success.
On the other hand, the poultry industry and solvent extractors blamed Cheema for making statements against the facts. They were of the view that soybean imports were crucial for value-addition and in producing high quality food at affordable cost.They said that ignoring basic trade and market facts would cause a major food crisis in the country in the upcoming weeks.