SPECIAL REPORT IBD:Pakistan is fast heading towards a serious disaster in the field of corn, maize and cotton sectors as attempts are being made to get formal approval of the Biotech/BT corn or maize seeds which carry heavy risks involved in terms of high costs as well as polluting other maize varieties.

It is to be mentioned here that genetically modified seed producing companies – Pioneer, Syngenta and Monsanto – have submitted applications for commercialization of genetically modified (GM/BT corn or maize).

According to experts, the issues that need to be looked into are; shouldPakistanapprove Bt corn/maize? What is the logic for commercialization of corn and maize seeds in Pakistan, when major European countries (UK, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria) have banned these plantation; how to control pollution of related to cross-pollination from Bt corn/maize; what is the benefit when the hybrid corn/maize seeds are already producing yields of 80-120 maunds per acre?

Currently, with no public or scientific debate and pro-GM data manipulated by the seed sector, the seed companies inPakistanare pushing for approval for the commercial planting of GM corn/maize.

Experts say that undeniably, there are huge potential risks associated with planting GM corn, such as the unknown consequences of implanted genes spreading to native varieties, a concern which was also raised inMexicoafter a field trial of GM maize was authorized.

“Biosafety laws need to be implemented in letter and spirit if we want to grow GM crops, and this is wherePakistanis not doing too well,” remarked Dr. Saqib Elahi, who is working extensively on seed quality.

He said that our regulatory bodies do not have the capacity yet to properly assess the benefits or dangers of genetically modified crops.

The big challenge ahead for those engaged in the GM crops approval process inPakistanis not how to promote or stop the technology but rather to find ways to ensure that GM crops benefit the country and farmers, not just the multinational corporations who are eyeingPakistanas a big agriculture profit opportunity.

The farmers concerns multiply as the national regulatory bodies like National Biosafety Commission (NBC) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) have so far not countered the pro-Genetically Modified crops lobby on any issue.

Experts say that it’s time that we seriously look into the merits and de-merits of all this and take a decision after careful deliberations and not come under pressure from the lobbies led by Pioneer and Monsanto.

Unfortunately, the main proponents of GM crops inPakistan(Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta) have so far given no clue about how Bt corn/maize contamination can be prevented inPakistanand why seed prices are so high.

The Monsanto spokesperson claimed that GM maize is not sexually compatible with any indigenous or introduced wild plant species present inPakistan. Therefore, the potential for genetic transfer and exchange with other plants is limited to cross pollination to other cultivated maize plants.

According to sources, a 16-page report titled “TAC Sub-Committee Recommendations and Findings” was prepared by the Monsanto Pakistan, and certain members of the committee tried to adopt it, instead of evaluating the findings themselves.

It is to be mentioned here that inPakistan, temperate climatic condition prevails and the temperature rises above 40C and also can be less than 10C during maize growing seasons. In tropical areas likePhilippines, temperature is around 30C most of the year,” he observed. “So we cannot compare yield of hybrid seed used in Tropical region with temperate regions,” an expert observed.

“It’s a deliberate attempt to keep these discussions and proceedings in low profile in order to avoid any outcry by the farmers and conscious citizens,” said some sources to this scribe.

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