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May 22, 2019

Lawmakers to broach upon GMO commercialisation tomorrow

Business

May 22, 2019

LAHORE: A meeting of the National Assembly’s standing committee on national food security and research would discuss the thorny issue of commercialisation of genetically-modified organism maize on Thursday (tomorrow), sources said on Tuesday.

The senior officials of the ministry would brief members of the committee about the outcome of consultation with the stakeholders and pros and cons of genetically-modified organism (GMO) seeds on food crops during the meeting at the office of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council.

The meeting is convened in the backdrop of a recent spat over the issue with some members vehemently opposing the move in the last gathering of the committee last week, saying the issue was not part of the agenda.

Sources said a number of the members of the National Assembly (MNA) belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lambasted the chairman standing committee on national food security and research Ajmal Khan for his unwarranted comments in favour of commercialisation of GMO maize seeds. The unexpected supportive comments were uttered by the committee’s chairman despite the fact that it was not part of the agenda. A member, requesting anonymity, told the scribe that the issue was not included in the agenda and members were ‘virtually’ astonished to hear the chairman delivering “his high pitch and unending sermon in support of GMO seeds”.

When contacted, Khan reiterated his support to GMO seeds. “Pakistan would get tremendous benefits due to enhanced production,” he said. The chairman however did not respond to the allegations about his support for powerful GMO lobby. There are allegations against his links with multinational companies. Many believe he is favouring GM technology due to vested interest.

Khan actually mustered backing of other members on the issue. He said Pakistan should grant approval to GMO corn for commercial sowing to enable farmers to increase income on growth in crop production. The country could export surplus corn and cultivation of GMO corn would truly be beneficial for the economy. “The vast Chinese market can be tapped by trading excessive production of maize.”

Some members of the committee however expressed their displeasure over the discussion of the issue in such a manner.

Nausheen Hamid, a member of national assembly (MNA) belonging to PTI, expressed her surprise over spontaneous comments of the committee’s chairman at the last meeting. Hamid said there should be no discussion and decisive debate on the occasion as it was not part of the planned deliberation. She further said GMO seeds had health hazards and they provided no benefits in terms of yield gain or protection against pest and diseases.

Another PTI MNA Shaukat Ali from Peshawar also opposed ‘undue favouritism’ shown by the committee’s chairman to GMO. Ali asked members of the committee that they should not jump to any conclusion without seeking opinion of the relevant quarters. The appropriate way is to discuss the issue in the light of stakeholders’ opinion, especially as per stance of the concerned departments, he told the committee’s members.

Ali told the scribe that he would meet senior officials of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and would get briefing on the important issue. A team of officials of the federal government would also brief MNA in Islamabad over the issue, he said. “After such discussions members can reach on any conclusion.”

Lawmaker Hamid said several pressing questions need to be answered before considering the introduction of GMO maize for cultivation in the country. “Farmers are currently benefitting from imported and locally produced seeds and increase in yield is marvelous,” she said, referring to an assessment. “However, after introduction of GMO maize, farmers may completely be left at the mercy of foreign companies for purchase of costly imported seeds.” The lawmaker said the whole Asia and Oceania region except Philippines and Vietnam is non-GMO. Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Uzbekistan, Turkey and India have not approved GMO maize. Adoption of GMO maize is a matter of national sovereignty and food security. “The dependence on (GMO) imported seeds will not bode well for the farming community,” she added.

The MNA said no yield advantage has been documented in the countries where it has been introduced. “Even in the USA, the growth in yield per acre is due to the genetic improvement as has been the case in non-GMO maize growing countries.” In 2003, when GMO was introduced in Philippines, yield of Pakistan and Philippines stood at two tons/hectare. Maize yield in Pakistan has progressed to five tons per hectare since then, whereas GMO corn’s yields have been stagnant at three tons/hectare, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s reports.

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