Inept priorities!

Pakistan currently is rife with the reports regarding introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – crops, fruits and vegetables. An international agreement – Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety – exists there that establishes a world regime primarily aimed at regulating trade in GMOs intended for release into the environment. The Protocol also imposes certain information-sharing requirements for GMOs shipped in bulk as commodities for use as human food or animal feed, or in processed goods. But here the question arises, has Pakistan enacted any procedure, rules or laws to monitor and regulate GM seeds and GMO release? It has been reported that the federal government has recently approved over 100 varieties of genetically modified cotton and corn to be sold in the Pakistani market. If this is so, this would have far-reaching repercussions not only along the cotton production chain, the nature of the food we consume but also Pakistans implementation of international environmental agreements. GMOs like the Bt cotton, maize and corn approved by the government have been recently regulated internationally by the priorities Cartagena Protocol of 2000. The Protocol requires GMOs to undergo risk assessment and risk reduction before they are imported, used or sold. In fact, the bio-safety rules establish a three-tier system to ensure risk assessment and reduction: Institutional Biosafety Organisations that conduct field research, a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) that evaluates applications for import, use or sale and a National Biosafety Committee (NBC) that is the final approving authority for GMO use in the country. However, all this process had witnessed a deadlock like situation mainly due to the 18th amendment (devolution of environment subject to provinces). If there is lack of regulation of GMOs, then what is one to make of the recent approval of GM corn and maize? This is the first time anyone has approved GMOs in a food crop. Have proper tests been conducted? Is our health and environment protected? Does a proper regulatory system exist that can ensure that the risk assessment and mitigation mandatory under the Cartagena Protocol is taking place? These are the potential questions that still hound the stakeholders. QWe have certain knowledge but not everything, which is alarming especially for the agriculture sector the country mainly dpends on. To develop any technology test and trials is the best solution to overcome its negative effects. In case of GMOs in Pakistan SOPs are missing that need to be in place before GMOs are introduced. They need to have the required professional capabilities as well as mechanisms to handle the situation in a proper way, before it is too late.

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