Seed Act 1976 of Pakistan has no provision for certification of GM seeds, the multinational companies are still being given exemptions for seed import in Pakistan due to absence of biosafety policy framework.
Deliberating on the positives and negatives of permitting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Pakistan, agricultural experts partaking in a moot were congruent over the need of devising a comprehensive and consolidated policy framework having proper rules and regulations to deal with the import of GM seeds.
The necessity was stressed at a roundtable discussion titled ‘GMO Scene in Pakistan’, which was held at Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad the other day. The session was chaired by Executive President IPS Khalid Rahman and addressed by Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, former federal cabinet secretary, Farzana Altaf Shah, director general, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), Dr Abdul Rauf Bhutta, former director general, Federal Seed Certification & Registration Department, Dr Muhammad Fahim, associate professor, Islamia College University, Peshawar, and Ijaz Ahmed Siddiqui, president, Agriculture Reform Movement (ARM).
Dr Bhutta, in his opening speech, said though the Seed Act 1976 of Pakistan has no provision for certification of GMOs, the multinational companies are still being given exemptions for seed import in Pakistan against Biosafety Rules 2005. He was critical of the government departments and regulatory authorities, stating that national food security was one of the pillars of sovereignty for any country, but there was no proper risk assessment sector in Pakistan for the purpose except National Biosafety Committee.
Siddiqui’s talk focused on the need of agriculture development making use of technological advancements.
Speaking against allowing import of any GMO seeds for food crops, Siddiqui questioned if GMOs were so environment-friendly and beneficial for human health, then why their advocates had to use illegal and indirect ways to put them in the system.
He highlighted various discrepancies and inefficiencies underscoring the incompetency of government departments, maintaining that many decisions made over the years pertaining to GMOs were taken against the country’s interest.
He also criticized the lack of proper regulatory guidelines in the country, stressing alongside that Pakistan’s regulations and guidelines for biosafety will also have to show compliance with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which Pakistan has ratified.
Dr Fahim pointed out that there were proper check and balance systems in place in the countries that were using GMOs whereas Pakistan neither had laboratories nor the expertise for this purpose. He said that he was not against GMOs, but local laws, practices as well as capacity also needed to be built first accordingly.
The speaker also criticized the agriculture researchers in Pakistan, stating that their only objective was to earn a few points for receiving rewards from Higher Education Commission, and hence their produced research was not adding any value or utility to local requirements.
Dr Farzana agreed that there was no consolidated policy regarding GMOs in Pakistan so far despite the need, but mentioned that Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997, National Biosafety Guidelines 2005 and Biosafety Rules 2005 did address this issue.
She negated the objection of having no biosafety testing labs in the country and also categorically denied that any GMO seed license was issued by the National Biosafety Committee.
Dr Farzana appreciated the effort of IPS for conducting a useful discussion over the GMO issue. She emphasized the need of raising awareness over the issue, saying that platforms like IPS could be used to identify policy gaps and provide necessary policy guidelines to address these shortcomings. “Such interactions involving government representatives and people working in the field would help policymakers design a strategy that is more practical and in line with the local needs,” she added