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Minister steps in to scrap moot called to green-signal GM corn in haste

By Munawar Hasan
January 29, 2019

LAHORE: A high-level meeting that was slated to green-signal the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) corn in the country today (Tuesday) was ploughed down for now by the food minister himself at the eleventh hour in a rather dramatic way, The News has learnt

Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) had called a moot of Variety Evaluation Committee (VAC) for granting approval to commercial farming of genetically modified corn varieties, developed by multinational seed companies today (Tuesday) ‘hastily’.

A scene was created when Federal Minister for National Food Security Sahibzada Mehboob

Sultan abruptly intervened and asked for the cancellation of meeting that was convened by Dr Yusuf Zafar, chairman PARC.

Many participants were on their way to federal capital or had already reached there for attending the meeting, when they were informed via phone calls that the moot has been postponed until further notice.

Several key PARC officials were also not aware of the cancellation until late Monday evening, when they were contacted by The News.

Even, an official confirmed to The News the meeting was on after reconfirming it.

However, upon insisting that the meeting had been cancelled, the official again checked with the PARC high-ups and only then he affirmed the postponement of the VAC meeting.

The official however asserted that meeting was cancelled on the request of Faisalabad Agriculture University as its team was yet not ready to show up for the moot. There is no political or any other reason of shelving the meeting, he observed.

Certain stakeholders in seed business strongly opposed the introduction of genetically modified corn’s commercial cultivation being an edible crop.

“It is in the best interests of consumers and farmers that the country continued with the hybrid corn, which is abundantly being produced in the country as per requirements,” they said.

Moreover, they added that the investment in local hybrids developed by seed industry also required prioritising hybrids of maize.

The stakeholders said the introduction of genetically modified crops would not only increase the cost of farming for farmers due to high royalty fees, but would also lead to contamination of local germplasm, particularly in maize, which is a wind pollinated crop.

“This will also have severe adverse effect on the investment in locally developed hybrid varieties and discourage local production and research and development in seed business,” they warned.

On the other hand, the exports of maize-based value-added products from Pakistan could only be continued on sustained basis if the local growers stick with hybrid technology and refrain from allowing genetically modified corn seeds, sources said.

Most importantly, they added that it would lead to loss of export business as several countries/regions which import the value-added products based on maize and edible crops from Pakistan are anti-genetically modified crops such as European Union, Africa, Turkey, and Russia.

“Pakistan will not be able to export its products to these regions and countries, thus severely hampering exports,” they said.

More significantly, they said Pakistan’s per hectare production of corn was already showing upward trend and with five tons per hectare output of corn hybrids, Pakistan was already ahead of several countries that allowed genetically modified corn.

“We are sufficiently meeting our needs of corn through local production and there is no need to experiment with genetically modified organisms, which have several proven issues,” sources said.