Monday June 27, 2022

Defence institutions oppose genetically modified seeds for food crops

April 24, 2019

LAHORE: Taking part in consultation on farming issues for the first time as invited, defence institutions have strongly opposed adoption of genetic technology for food crops.

Representatives of the army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) participated in a consultative meeting and shared their views on taking strategic decision with regard to granting permission for commercial cultivation of genetically modified organism (GMO) maize, according to official documents.

The consultative moot was convened by the Ministry of Food Security & Research (NFS&R) and was chaired by its Secretary. In his introductory remarks, the chair informed the house that presently Pakistan is a non-GMO food country. The cotton crop is only officially allowed as GMO crop for commercial cultivation, according to minutes of meeting.

The representative of military's Strategic Planning Division (SPD) endorsed the opening statement of the chair. Taking about adverse impact of cross pollination, he further explained that although cotton crop is considered 90 percent self-pollinated and 10 percent cross pollinated crop, unfortunately existing non-GMO cotton crop has also been contaminated with GMO cotton crop. Now it is very difficult to harvest non-GMO cotton from existing crop.

He further elaborated that there is no mechanism of co-existence in the country for GMO and non-GMO seeds and it is also not applicable due to small land holdings. The avoidance of contamination of GMO crop to non-GMO crop is also not possible through delay in time of sowing. He emphasized that Pakistan should take decision on GMO for commercialization on a crop-to-crop and need basis. He disagreed with idea of allowing commercial cultivation of GM maize in Pakistan.

The representative from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) also opposed the commercialization of GM maize in Pakistan. He pointed out that it is a controversial technology by which our export may be suffered. There is no significant yield increase or reduction in production cost by adopting GMO seeds.

Most of other stakeholders belonging to public sector institutions also opposed introduction of GMO corn in the country. According to the minutes of the meeting, after detailed deliberations it was concluded that there is no doubt that we must get benefit from biotechnology but at the same time biotechnology is not limited to only genetic modified organism.

The participants stressed the need for carrying out Socio-Economic Analysis before commercialization of GMO maize in the country. It was noted that serious concerns have been raised about export contaminated with GMO from Pakistan, saying that such unwelcoming development may hamper exports.

The European Union (EU) has communicated serious concerns about GMO rice in 2017. China has also imposed ban on import of Rapeseed and Mustard meal from Pakistan in 2013 due to interception of GMO contents in such consignments. The ban has not been lifted yet and we lost that market. Russia and most of the Central Asian countries have zero-tolerance for GMO products whereas Gulf countries have also prohibited GMO products.

After commercialization of GMO maize, there is no legal framework and SOPs on co-existence of GM & non-GM corn to protect farming community and consumers. Moreover, there is no mechanism for educating farmers on GMO-crops. The co-existence of GM and non-GM is a big challenge where 95 percent of farmers own less than five acres. In this scenario, there are high chances of cross pollination of GM and non-GM crops.

The participants also observed that there are huge chances of monopolization of seed market following introduction of GMO corn. National Food security of the country may be compromised coupled with infringement of farmer rights.

When contacted, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Food Security & Research said that the issue of GMO maize cultivation is presently under discussion at official level, saying as it is an ongoing issue, hence there is no official comment on the issue as yet. The spokesperson also did not specifically give remarks about seeking comments from the representatives of defence institutions with regard to introduction of GMO seeds of food crops.