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Court stops regulator from issuing licences for ‘modified’ seeds

Updated May 14, 2014 08:51am


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ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court has ordered the federal government to stop issuing licences for genetically-modified (GM) varieties of cotton or corn until a legal framework is put into place to assess the new types of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are fast cropping up every day.

The decision effectively halts and prohibits the supply and sale of fresh GM seeds in Pakistan including pest-resistant strains of Bt cotton and Bt corn. These varieties are genetically altered to be more resistant to certain types of pests and diseases.

The restraining order will affect previously-approved varieties of GM seeds. It will also affect 23 varieties of Bt cotton and 14 new varieties of Bt corn approved in March 2014.

However, these GM corn varieties include strains MIR162 and MON810, both of which have been banned by China and the European Union.

The court issued the order on Monday when a public interest petition was filed by the Kisan Board Pakistan, a farmers’ rights network.

The petition specifically challenged the 12th meeting of the National Bio-Safety Committee (NBC) held on March 12, 2014. In that meeting, NBC had considered applications for the commercialisation of 23 new varieties of Bt cotton as well as 14 applications for new varieties of GM corn.

The Farmers Association of Pakistan has been complaining about the sale of poor quality Bt cotton seeds in the open market for quite some time. But even as Pakistan heads towards the commercialisation of GM crops, there is still no strong regulatory system in place, no trained technical staff or any well-equipped laboratories that can properly analyse GM crop strains.

“The use of uncertified varieties of GM seeds increase input costs for farmers. The low levels of pest resistance in these seeds have increased insects’ immunity, necessitating the use of nearly double the normal amount of pesticides. The NBC also relaxed germination levels for crops from 75 per cent under Seed Act, 1976 to less than 50 percent,” Chaudhry Gohar, a progressive cotton farmer from Multan, told Dawn.

Kisan Board Director Complaints Rafiq Butt said, “We needed to stop the government from approving uncertified GMOs. Pakistan’s textile industry will suffer the most if the quality of our cotton deteriorates.”

The petition maintains that after the 2010 devolution of the subject of environment to provincial governments under 18th Amendment, the NBC was no longer competent to approve licences for GM seeds.

The petition also asserted that many of the varieties seeking commercial licences had not been subject to proper risk assessments such as laboratory and field tests.

The Kisan Board argued that substandard seeds were being hastily approved by NBC in violation of environmental safeguards prescribed by the Cartagena Protocol, an international agreement on bio-safety that “seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by GM organisms resulting from modern biotechnology”.

Pakistan is also a party the agreement.

“Since the passage of the 18th Amendment, however, none of the provinces had taken steps to provide a new regulatory regime for GMOs, leaving a legal vacuum,” a senior official Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) official told Dawn.

During proceedings on Monday, representatives of the Textile Industries Division and the director general (DG) of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) was also present.

The Textile Industries Division submitted that nearly 85 per cent of the cotton sowed in Pakistan is Bt cotton, but conceded that the use of unapproved varieties was widespread and needed regulation.

EPA DG Muhammad Khurshid observed that the authority treated GMOs ‘very seriously’.

“The Foreign Office has also conveyed its concern to the Climate Change Division that the subject of GMO seeds is a matter of grave concerns for national security and trade. It can be used as a biological weapon of mass destruction,” said Khurshid who was appearing on behalf of the federation.

Documents available with Dawn show how the Foreign Office treats GMOs as potential “biological weapons of mass destruction”, which could be used to destroy Pakistan’s major crops such as potato, wheat, rice, corn, cotton and vegetables through modified viruses, bacteria and other parasites.

Kisan Board counsel Ahmad Rafay Alam told Dawn, “The bio-safety committee is restrained from issuing any GM organism licences and the government has been directed to establish a new regulatory regime for the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol.”


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Comments (10) Closed

Malveros May 14, 2014 11:35am

Thanks to Almighty that someone somewhere is aware of the dangers and hazards of GM seeds.

abdullah May 14, 2014 12:52pm

Agricultural experts believe that GM crops are the future of world's agriculture and our country is no exception in this regard. For Pakistan, the problem is not GM seeds but substandard GM seeds, especially Bt cotton seeds. Pakistan should introduce GM seeds of world-known agricultural technology providers only and take action against the mighty fake seed mafia that is playing havoc with the agriculture of Pakistan since long and continues to enjoy a free run.

Murtaza May 14, 2014 01:09pm

Not only GM foods are banned in EU and China and lots of other countries but there is growing movement in US against it. People want to list GM based food listed in ingredients list in each packaged food product. There is concern about its safety and there are hundreds of papers published linking Alzheimer, Autism , Allergy and Gut dysbiosis to GM foods. Worst thing about GM based corps are you can't grow seeds you have to always buy seeds and spray(Round up) from the US Manufacturer(Monsanto). Because of increasing hostility towards GM in US in general and in the world in Particular these multinational corporations are looking for new markets. Pakistan is excellent place to put this poison in .Please read up about it and join hands to resist it before its too late.

Dr. Asim May 14, 2014 02:17pm

@abdullah Every body knows that you scientists have copied Bt gene from Monsanto Mon531, failed to fix the required toxin level, all Bt seeds are poor in germination, which is documented in all TAC, NBC, PSC etc minutes since 2010. No yield has increased since introduction of Bt cotton since 2010. No open field study to find the impact of low toxin on pest and environment. This is suppose to be job of scientists to carry out scientific studies and collect data etc. But here they have made up glass house data, Reports of expression level by Govt labs and fibre quality etc are fabricated according to their own desire as NBC staff is completely incompetent and lack of capacity so such scientists find easy way out.

Simple question is bring data WHY DO WE NEED BT COTTON? How much is Bollworms (Four types) in field in the last 5 years? How much pesticides have deceases due to Bt cotton? Look forward to your scientific studies and data.

Hanif May 14, 2014 04:19pm

Our scientists first spread Bt cotton seeds according to PARC Chairman more than 85 % area under Bt cotton. They already knew that Bt cotton seeds are substandard and have no economic benefits to farmer or economy, they are also involved in promoting banned GM Corn by many countries so tomorrow they will have excuse that now like Bt cotton seeds GM corn seeds also have been spread so let's legalized it. Unfortunately, more like tobacco industry Biotech seed firms are following similarly path to enter in the market.

BIG question is how we are going to phase-off / stop banned Bt cotton seeds sale as directed by Lahore High Court? The main source of these substandard Bt cotton seed varieties are Govt. own institutes like PSC etc. So how Govt. regulatory authorities going to take action against its own Departments?

FIZA May 15, 2014 12:21am

The most serious problem with GMO seeds is they do not regenerate so farmers have to repurchase these very costly seeds each growing season. Also these hybrid manmade seeds destroy the soil and negatively impact the more natural and organic seeds which are indigenous to Pakistan.

Many Indian farmers have committed suicide due to these destructive GMO seeds which wreak havoc on their lands and push the farmers into debt due to the high cost of purchasing these seeds and the fertilizers needed to grow these GMO crops. At present there's a mass movement of protest against such seeds not only in India, it's spreading all over Europe and North America.

Let's hope our courts and ministries will not fall prey to Monsanto type companies which are literally destroying healthy, natural seeds all over the world and lately have been found to be cancer causing.

Anwar May 15, 2014 01:00am

@FIZA seed industry in Pakistan is in its infancy stage. They lack technical staff with solid information. The current staff needs vigorous training and moral support, support to control fake seed business being done by middle men.

Anwar May 15, 2014 01:01am

@abdullah I strongly disagree with your idea.

Aziz May 15, 2014 01:49am

Bangladesh is also strongly resisting GM crops.

In the US the GM industry have ridden roughshod over state legislatures to ban GM labelling on food. The GM industry does not want the consumers to know that GM ingredients have been used. Why are they going to such extraordinary lengths if they have nothing to hide?

Pakistan should avoid GM crops like a plague.

Dr. Asim May 15, 2014 04:23pm

@Anwar It is unfortunate when our Cotton Commissioner, directors / heads of research institutes are in this dirty business of substandard Bt cotton seed and lobbing for GM seeds on behalf of Biotech seed MNCs. God forbid, such poor quality of Bt cotton seeds approved by NBC members scientists would have destroyed our cash crop industry.