Planning on the positives and negatives of allowing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Pakistan, agricultural specialists involving in a debate were compatible over the need of developing a comprehensive and joined policy framework having proper rules and regulations to deal with the import of GM seeds.
The necessity was discussed at a roundtable conversation titled ‘GMO Scene in Pakistan’, which was held at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad.
The meeting was chaired by IPS Executive President Khalid Rahman and addressed by former federal cabinet secretary Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) Director General Farzana Altaf Shah, Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department’s former director general Dr Abdul Rauf Bhutta, Islamia College University Peshawar’s Associate Professor Dr Muhammad Fahim Peshawar, and Agriculture Reform Movement President Ijaz Ahmed Siddiqui.
Dr Bhutta said in his opening speech that still the Seed Act 1976 of Pakistan had no provision for certification of GMOs, the multinational companies were still being given freedom for seed import in Pakistan Biosafety Rules 2005.
He was significant for the government departments and regulatory authorities, saying the national food security was one of the pillars of sovereignty for any country, but there was no appropriate risk assessment sector in Pakistan for the purpose except the National Biosafety Committee.
Ijaz Ahmed 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 valuable for human health, why their advocates had to use illegal and indirect ways to put them in the system.
He highlighted different 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.
Siddiqui also criticized theabsence of proper regulatory guidelines in the country, stressing alongside that Pakistan’s regulations and guidelines for biosafety would also have to show consistence with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which Pakistan has endorsed.
Dr Fahim called attention that there were proper check and balance structure setup in the countries that were utilizing GMOs, whereas Pakistan neither had laboratories nor the expertise for this reason.
He said he was not against GMOs, but local laws, practices as well as capacity also required to be built first accordingly.
The speaker also criticized the agriculture researchers in Pakistan by expressing that their only goal was to win few points for getting rewards from the Higher Education Commission (HEC), and hence their produced research was not adding any worth or utility to local requirements.
Dr Farzana agreed that there was no consolidated policy related to GMOs in Pakistan so far despite the need, but mentioned that the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997, the National Biosafety Guidelines 2005 and Biosafety Rules 2005 did address this issue.
She negated the objection of having no biosafety testing labs in the pakistan and also categorically denied that any GMO seed license was issued by the National Biosafety Committee.
Dr Farzana appreciated the efforts of IPS for arranging 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 discover policy gaps and give necessary policy guidelines to address these deficiencies.
She concluded that “Such interactions connecting 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”.