‘GMO tug of war’

June 28, 2019

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APROPOS the opinion piece ‘GMO tug of war’ by Zubeida Mustafa (June 8). It is regrettable that the author has distorted and misstated facts whilst propagating an oft-peddled anti-science propaganda.

The writer states that changes in the legal framework enabling the GM crop introduction was at the behest of ‘biotech giants’. The fact is that Pakistan has had a long-standing policy of embracing and promoting R and D of biotech crops since 1980s, predating any of the so-called biotech ‘giants’ entering the market. In fact, many of the indigenous biotechnology research institutes and academic programmes have been in existence since 1987, conducting research on GM wheat, maize, cotton, tobacco and sugarcane underway.

The notion that GM maize is being introduced through relaxations in laws and rules is incorrect. The regulatory process for this technology is in line with the law (Seed Amendment Act 2015 and Biosafety Rules 2005) fulfilling all legal requirements over the past 10 years.

The yield figures quoted by the author are incorrect. Our average yield is 1.9 MT/Acre, not 5 MT/Acre. While record high of 5 MT/Acre can be achieved by larger farmers, small hold farmers will only realize the potential through GM maize. Philippines, US and Brazil are prominent success stories exhibiting yield increase of 72pc, 56pc and 102pc, respectively.

Contrary to the author’s claim, there is consensus amongst the scientific community, locally and internationally, on GM crop safety. This was done after rigorous regulatory scrutiny and field trials in Pakistan and across the world. Food safety authorities in the US, EU, Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, amongst many others assess and approve GM crops for consumption as food and feed. The EU alone is the second largest importer of GM grain, importing 32 million tons annually.

The writer raises the much-politicised issue of glyphosate, referring to the erroneous assessment of glyphosate as a ‘probable’ carcinogen by a WHO subordinate programme. This programme has previously courted controversy for providing the same rating to red meat, night shift work and textile factory floor. The classification is inconsistent with 40 years of scientific research and is at odds with the findings of three other WHO safety assessment programmes. Rafhan procures a mere 8pc of total grain. An even smaller percentage is utilised for exports. Therefore, it is a very small stakeholder and can easily manage production of non-GM products.

Dr Muhammad Afzal

Executive Director

CropLife Pakistan Association

Lahore

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2019