Thursday September 28, 2023

Profit over public health

December 09, 2022

LAHORE: Profit is given preference over human health in our culture. Poultry feed producers want customs to release genetically modified oil seeds/meal, while the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) does not want any action against pollution, while the steel furnaces intensify smog in Lahore.

These are open cases of violation of law. The European Union, a close ally of the United States, has banned import of any food crop produced from genetically modified seeds.

The government of Pakistan also does not permit import of GM seeds or products made from GM crops. This ban has been imposed because its impact on human health is not clear.

GM food crops are also banned in India. Soybean seeds of US origin are GM seeds. Nine ship loads of GM soybean seed or feed (residue left after extracting oil from the seeds) have arrived at Karachi port.

These ships were rightly denied clearance. The importers denied that the consignments were products of GM seeds.

Federal Minister for Food Security Tariq Bashir Cheema offered to check the consignments in the laboratory to ascertain their claim, which the importers refused.

The US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome called on the food security minister with a request to clear the soybean consignments, which the minister rightly refused. Would the United States government allow any Pakistani product that contravenes US import law to enter their soil?

The ambassador then called on our prime minister who has formed a committee to sort out the matter. This is strange, if Pakistan’s import law concerning the health of our population is violated, there is no point in forming a committee.

The poultry association has also approached the Federal Tax Ombudsman citing uncalled for delay in clearance of routine soybean feed imports (did not point out the GM seed issue).

The ombudsman has called a meeting of the concerned FBR officials and the importers to look into the issue.

The tax ombudsman is a practicing medical doctor as well. One must hope he understands the implications of GM seeds on the health of the consumers (the feed would be taken by poultry stocks, but consuming the meat of that stock would have health implications on the consumers).

Another case is that of the LCCI asking the Environment Department to immediately stop coercive measures against furnaces installed in the steel sector until standardised scrubbers are finalised.

This concession has been sought when an environmental emergency has been declared in Lahore and its surrounding towns because of smog. Smog is not a new issue in Punjab; it dates back to over a decade.

The Punjab authorities identified the industries and other sectors that intensify smog. The brick making plants have shifted to new technology and pollution on that count has been controlled, but the steel re-rolling mills are operating on the same old mode and have done nothing to reduce the smoke emitted by them that is lethal for health.

Every year they call for a waiver which is granted and they continue with their old habits.

The federal government imposed certain conditions on the import of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) in 2019. The rules were in the interest of consumers.

One was that the expiry date of chocolates and other edibles must not be less than six months when they enter Pakistan. The other was that the supplier must print on the label of the product ingredients, contra-indications and allergy warnings in Urdu. At that time they asked for time for implementation. They too continue with their past practice.