STAFF REPORT ISB: The federal government has granted permission to multinational companies for commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) corn seeds in Pakistan, despite the two senior ministers claims in the National Assembly that GM crops would never be allowed in the country.

According to sources, the Ministry of Climate Change has awarded licences to different companies including Monsanto and DuPont/Pioneer for the commercialization of GM crops in the country.

They revealed that the licences have been granted without conducting large-scale open field trials of the GM technology, which is a violation of the national bio-safety laws and the international standard operating procedures.

The two federal ministers Khurram Dastgir and Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan had categorically denied that the government had given licence to any multinational company for commercial trial of GM corn seeds in the country.

“Without large-scale open field trials no authority can approve the commercialisation of GM corn or any other GM crop and Pakistan has become a unique example that has given approval,” said the sources in the Climate Change Ministry and experts.

It is to be mentioned here that no risk assessment study has been conducted for both GM corn and cotton by the National Bio Safety (NBC) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) as yet in the country. Moreover, the both (NBC and TAC) have no capacity and infrastructure for risk assessment, equipped lab, trained and capable staff and even no legislative instruments are in place. Moreover, the government has given an undertaken to the Lahore High Court “no license will be issued till the relevant legislation is made in place.”

Experts say that without large-scale open field trials no authority can approve the commercialisation of GM corn or any other GM crop and Pakistan has become a unique example that has given approval.

Monsanto Pakistan has acknowledged that the government had recently allowed it commercialisation of GM corn in Pakistan.

It claimed that throughout this period, it had followed a proper procedure for seeking approval.

Experts are surprised saying how quickly the federal government has approved GM corn and cotton varieties.

They say GM corn or maize is a dangerous crop because of cross-pollination that can contaminate other non-GM crops within a range of 200 to 500 meters. Apparently, the climate change minister had come under pressure from certain companies, which led to the grant of licences.

“Yes, the government has permitted the use of our GM corn on a commercial basis after a long and rigorous process starting from 2009,” said Aamir Mirza, an official of Monsanto.

The sources said that instead of field trials by involving farmers, small-scale tests in confined areas were conducted in certain government institutions and universities.

By not considering these issues, the government has endangered the GM corn crop, especially keeping in view the fact that 30-40 per cent of the crop is consumed in Pakistan. Monsanto claims that a monitoring sub-committee had visited fields for assessment of trials a number of times in each growing season to collect data and evaluate compliance. It has regularly been submitting season-wise and yearly reports to the technical assessment committee and other relevant departments and ministries.

Commenting on the development, the ex-chief of Pakistan Environment Protection Agency Asif Shuja said the decision has been taken in haste without following due procedure and proper risk assessment, which would have far-reaching implications in the future.

He emphasized the need for a proper risk assessment of the new technology and whether the manpower, institutions and system could tackle the challenge.

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