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July 14, 2019

Pakistan freezes GM corn trials on contamination fears

Business

July 14, 2019

LAHORE: Pakistan has imposed a ban on further trials of Genetically Modified (GM) maize for unspecified period in a bid to avoid natural crop contamination that can subsequently hurt maize exports, an official statement said.

A notification, issued by Environmental Protection Agency of Ministry of Climate Change, titled 'Suspension of GM Corn/Maize Activities in the Country', said the decision was taken at a meeting of National Biosafety Committee (NBC).

Quoting the decision taken by the federal government, Punjab Seed Corporation, a public sector seed company, conveyed a written directive to the concerned department on July 09, 2019.

It has been intimated through official correspondence that all biosafety licenses regarding import and field trials of GM corn in the country has been suspended along with all related activities.

After slapping a ban on import of GM corn seeds and other associated activities, the trials of bio-engineered maize will come to a standstill.

Earlier, Ministry of National Food Security & Research after holding extensive consultation with stakeholders gave a verdict against granting permission to commercial cultivation of genetically engineered crops. It is stated that government will not allow the use of biotechnology for developing seeds of food crops.

During the consultation, most of the stakeholders were of the view that there was no significant yield increase or reduction in production cost by adopting the GM seeds. It was concluded at such deliberation that there was no doubt the country must get benefit from biotechnology but at the same time biotechnology was not limited to only genetic modified organisms.

It was noted that serious concerns have been raised about maize exports contaminated with GM corn from Pakistan, saying that such unwelcoming development may hamper exports.

The a series of heated debates about granting permission to GM corn surfaced in January this year when federal ministry of national food security swung into action and stopped GM approval process at the eleventh hour by cancelling a meeting of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC).

The about-to-happen high-level meeting that was slated to green-signal the cultivation of GM corn in the country was ploughed down by the food minister himself in a rather dramatic way. The moot was called for granting approval to commercial farming of GM crop varieties, developed by multinational seed companies.

Similarly, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also officially expressed its adverse views on cultivation of GM maize. The officials expressed serious reservations over contamination of local maize varieties due to cross-pollination from GM corn. They also observed that such an eventuality would hurt locally-grown corn, which is a staple for local population.

On the other hand, the high-powered parliamentary committee also unanimously objected to any such move and rather recommended following models of countries that have adopted hybrid corn.

In its set of recommendations, members of bipartisan parliamentary committee, headed by Speaker National Assembly, recommended Pakistan should follow models of China, India, and Turkey as far as production and distribution of biotechnology seeds. None of these countries has adopted GM food crops.

Separately, members of National Assembly’s standing committee on national food security and research also disagreed to the idea of allowing commercialisation of GM maize. They vehemently opposed the move in the last gathering of the committee held a couple of months back, saying there were multiple issues associated with biotechnology. They lambasted the chairman of standing committee for his unwarranted comments in favour of the same.