Hasty approval of GM crops

Most recently, Senate Committee has approved a bill regarding introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops in Pakistan. This development has the potential to deteriorate the already waning agriculture yields along with other negative impacts on environment as GM crops launch in the country has received sharp criticism from the stakeholders. This controversy is likely to persist as the law allows the import and commercialization of GM crops, which many agricultural and environmental experts consider harmful for the country. Such concerns do carry the weight as GM crops are going to be commercialized without any proper regulatory body and procedure in place and also without any environmental or risk assessment. This is a unique example in the world where GM varieties are approved without proper trial and testing. Advocates of GM crops claim that due to GM technology the yield will be double and usage of pesticides will sharply decline in Pakistan. But this is yet to be proved as no progress has so far been registered since the experiments have been made since 2005 on vast areas of Punjab and Sindh by sowing Bt cotton and maize. The issue is quite serious and needs thorough experiments at all stages from food quality, land safety to environment as well as human health. We, as a nation, cant afford making decisions in haste as it is already being haunted by the food security issue. Pakistan is signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety, which does not permit import and commercialization of GM crops without bio-safety regulations and proper infrastructure in place. Under the law, the government could not import more than one pound of cotton seed, that too only for research purposes. While the data shows that 85 per cent of the country’s cotton belt is already under genetically engineered Bt cotton and multinational seed and pesticides companies are allegedly pushing to introduce GM corn and maize seeds. Such uncontrolled expansion of GM cultivation, without adequate regulation in place, could lead to widespread contamination of non-GM crops. Moreover, there have been regular complaints from growers that use of pesticides has increased and yields gone down since the GM cotton seed arrived as pests have developed resistance to the variety sooner than expected. In such unsupportive situation the government needs to show some maturity before allowing the controversial GM crops to the country. It would be a sane approach if it takes steps to put a regulatory framework in place, which takes cognizance of long term implications of GM crops on productivity, profitability, resource use, food security and equity.

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