Pakistan fends off cultivation of GM corn: Jan. – May 2019

30 May

 JANUARY

The News reported that the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) called a meeting of Variety Evaluation Committee (VAC) to seek approval for the commercial farming of genetically modified corn varieties developed by multinational seed companies.

The Federal Minister for National Food Security Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan asked for a cancellation of meeting, saying that this was due to the request of Faisalabad Agriculture University as its team was not ready to show up.

Some stakeholders in the seed business strongly opposed the introduction of genetically modified corn’s commercial cultivation for several reasons:

  • it would increase the cost of farming for farmers due to high royalty fees,
  • it would lead to contamination of local germplasm, particularly in maize, which is a wind pollinated crop,
  • it would have an adverse effect on the investment in locally developed hybrid varieties and discourage local production and research and development in seed business and
  • Pakistan would not be able to export GM products to a wide range of GM-free regions and countries.

They said Pakistan’s per hectare production of corn was already showing an upward trend and with five tons per hectare output of corn hybrids, Pakistan was already ahead of several countries that allowed genetically modified corn. “We are sufficiently meeting our needs of corn through local production and there is no need to experiment with genetically modified organisms, which have several proven issues,” sources said.

FEBRUARY

The Technology Times reported that Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) – an alliance of small and landless farmers including women farmers – fully support the position of the Ministry of National Food Security & Research which has distanced itself from going ahead with approval of genetically modified maize in Pakistan by intervening to cancel the VAV meeting in January. PKMT reiterates their demand for a moratorium on genetically modified seeds and foods in the country as it violates farmers’ collective rights to seed.

They stress that the recent lawsuit against Monsanto won by a USA citizen suffering from cancer due to the company’s herbicide Roundup Ready clearly shows the critical health hazard to Pakistani famers who will be forced to use the herbicide along with GM seeds and add that in India, Monsanto’s Bt Cotton has failed drastically; and the story is no different in Pakistan.

For many years, they add, ‘the company’ (Monsanto?) has been lobbying for commercial use of GM maize; which – if approved – will cross-pollinate and rapidly destroy the local maize seed varieties.  Pakistan’s per hectare production of maize was already showing an upward trend that is already ahead of many countries that are using genetically modified maize.

The News reports that – despite strong opposition from farmers, local seed companies, officials and experts of agriculture – multinational companies have increased efforts to get genetically modified (GM) maize registered at the Variety Evaluation Committee (VEC) and start its production in the country.

MARCH

In order to create awareness among journalists about science-related communication, the Lahore chapter of Pakistan Biotechnology Information Center and The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) organised a one-day workshop at the Forman Christian College University (FCCU) Lahore on March 3, 2019.

Pakistan Today reports that, during the workshop, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center (MABIC) Executive Director Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan gave a brief presentation on biotechnology, Genetic Modification (GM) Technology and the industrial challenges.

FCCU Dean of Postgraduate studies Dr Kauser A Malik told the audience of science writers and journalists that they could play an important role in informing the public about scientific and technological developments by bridging the gap between the common person and scientist, ensuring the ‘formulation of appropriate government policies conducive to the development of science in the country’.

APRIL

Business Recorder published an interview in two parts with a team from CropLife Pakistan Association, an association of multi-national biotech firms working on seed technology in the country, currently advocating the introduction of Genetically Modified seeds, specifically GM maize. Part 1 – focussing on developing an understanding of the science behind GMOs – may be read here. A few days later the second part was published, focussing on the environmental safety and regulatory aspects.

MAY

Representatives of seed companies warned that Pakistan will not be able to export its products to many regions and countries in Europe and Africa. A case in point follows:

Bulgaria, which told the European Union in 2015 that it was to ban the cultivation of crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), attended the second meeting of Pakistan-Bulgaria Inter-Ministerial Commission. On Monday 20th May, the Bulgarian Minister for Economy, Liliya Ivanove Ivanove, stated that Bulgaria is looking forward to extensive cooperation in the field of agriculture including sustainable imports of cotton and rice from Pakistan.

But USDA is undeterred: Dawn reports that the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said future collaborative projects between the US and Pakistan include using American GM soybean feed in poultry, fish farming and dairy industries, introducing genetically-engineered maize and working with various government departments to develop uniform food safety standards.

 

 

 

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