ISLAMABAD: The federal government has approved more than 30 varieties of genetically modified (GM) cotton and corn/maize seeds for commercialisation and field test purposes in violation of rules and quality standards.

The approved varieties of Bt (or genetically modified) cotton seeds contain such low levels of poison that not only do not kill pests that destroy crop production but also build resistance in worms, impacting biodiversity and human health.

It may be noted that Pakistan does not have bio-safety laws, independent laboratories and trained staff to monitor associated risks and production of GM cotton and corn/maize to assess its impact on the soil, check cross pollination, effects on environment and human or animal consumption, especially after the national bio-safety centre project ends on June 30.

Laboratory test results (available with Dawn) showed that the approved GM cotton and corn/maize seeds contained low toxin between 0.3 and 0.7 microgram/gram against the international standards of 1.8 microgram/gram set by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Documents also revealed how in 2010 genetically modified Bt cotton seed varieties were approved which were substandard and had low genetically modified toxin to kill pests.

“In March 2014, the GM cotton varieties with even lower Bt toxin were approved overlooking the minimum standards through the National Bio-safety Committee (NBC), Climate Change Division, which does not have the jurisdiction outside the federal capital,” said an expert in the field of GM organisms at the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC).

After the passage of the 18th Amendment, GM crops became a provincial subject. On September 24, 2013, the law ministry wrote to the Ministry of Climate Change: “Environment pollution and ecology are subjects of the concurrent legislative list and stand transferred to provinces.”

Dilshad Ahmad Babar, the acting director general Pakistan Environment Protection Agency, said the Ministry of Law has directed the NBC to approve the commercialisation of the genetically modified cotton and the test of GM corn/maize in Pakistan.

Instead of following the constitution under devolution (that came into effect in 2010), local seed companies first got a letter issued through the Punjab government for approval of apparently substandard Bt cotton seeds on August 6, 2013.

“To further pressure the NBC, the Prime Minister Secretariat issued a number of letters asking the NBC to approve Bt cotton for commercialisation and the test of GM corn/maize,” said an expert.

A meeting of Inter-Provincial Coordination was held on October 2, 2013, to assess and approve the commercialisation of Bt cotton and trial growth of GM corn/maize.

Though the matter related to provinces, in January 2014 the Ministry of Law instructed the NBC to approve the GM crops in ‘national interest’.

Risks

Documents available with Dawn showed that four government labs had given reports in 2010 and 2012 that all GM cotton were below required gene toxin to kill larva/pest. “Low toxins will not kill pest, it will only develop pest resistance against Bt gene,” said a lab report.

Worst, the GM corn approved by the government contained “MIR162” gene which was earlier this year banned by China after it rejected it as unsafe for animal consumption and feared contamination of its corn crops.

“It also contains “MON810”, which has been banned in most European countries since 2009. France was one of the first countries to reject it, fearing health and environmental hazards,” said the expert.

When contacted, Secretary Climate Change Division Raja Hasan Abbas said the NBC, Climate Change Division, had approved the GM crops after consultation with the law ministry.

“There are clauses in the law that gives provinces the right to ask the federal government to take initiative if they lacked capacity. The Punjab government has asked the federal government to take the lead in this case,” said the secretary, adding all procedures were followed before NBC could approve the GM crops.

Nonetheless, most members in Farmers Association of Pakistan are against introducing the GM crops.

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