14 November 2002
ILL EFFECTS FROM SMUGGLED GMOS FORCE PAKISTAN TO LIFT BAN
If anyone wondered why the likes of CS Prakash of the AgBioWorld Foundation go round the Third World making ludicrous claims about GMOs (eg that they "double production", require no pesticides, produce foods with a longer shelf life, etc.) here's the answer from Pakistan:
"Today, the black market in GM seeds is thriving. GM corn, wheat, cotton and vegetable seeds - which have a reputation of producing a high-yielding crops that require no outlays on pesticides or fertilizer - are readily available in Pakistan."
Now Pakistan is being forced into lifting its GM ban in order to try and get a handle on the problems arising from GM seeds:
"farmers in Pakistan's Hydrabad district complained to the agriculture ministry that 1,600 hectares of planted cotton had been hit by an unknown disease that had turned the otherwise white flower of the cotton plant red.
Following an inspection of the site, government scientists declared that genetically engineered cotton, or Bt cotton, smuggled from Australia in hand luggage, had been sown on the land despite a government ban on such imports...
In Goth Allah Wasayah village in southern Sindh province, farmer Muhammad Ramzan, who planted Bt cotton in a 14-hectare field, found that in the space of two months an unknown reddish disease had destroyed his crops...
It was amid such reports that Pakistan decided in September to lift the ban on importing GM seeds."
Pakistan opens doors to GM seed
By Nadeem Iqbal
Asia Times (Inter Press Service)
ISLAMABAD - Seeing how hard it is to curb the smuggling of genetically modified (GM) seed, Pakistan hopes that its new approach - lifting a ban on the importation of such seeds and going for better regulation instead - will give it more control over the use of genetically altered products.
Officials at the department of agriculture say that by the end of this month, the government's ban will be lifted on genetically modified seed imports that have been deemed legal in their countries of origin.
"We know that the 'unidentified' genetically modified organisms [GMOs] are landing on the Pakistani market from Australia, the United States and neighboring China - and could be hazardous," an agriculture ministry official, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "So the only way to mitigate against damage is to regulate, by asking the importers to get a certificate from the seed department after disclosing the name of the manufacturer and other characteristics of the seeds," the official said.
This will allow the entry of seeds from key producers of GM products, including the United States and China, and officials say that obliging importers to show the source of their GM seed imports would at least allow the government to keep track of what is coming into the country.
Today, the black market in GM seeds is thriving. GM corn, wheat, cotton and vegetable seeds - which have a reputation of producing a high-yielding crops that require no outlays on pesticides or fertilizer - are readily available in Pakistan. A packet of genetically altered cotton seeds can be bought for about US$2.
However, activists worry that the Pakistani government is easing up on GM rules at a time when its budding biotechnology sector is still without comprehensive guidelines to regulate the commercial use of GMOs. For almost two years, food rights activists and government scientists have been urging the government to introduce regulations to control the commercial use of GMOs and GM products in the country.
These regulations, they say, would control not only imported GM material but boost Pakistan's indigenous research into genetically modified organisms and allow scientists to release them into the field.
Biotechnology experts - who have been working on indigenous GMOs at the National Agriculture Research Center and the National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering - have been asking Islamabad to enact biosafety laws under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which Pakistan ratified in 1994.
Government scientists say that delays in introducing guidelines will leave Pakistan behind in research, which they see as vital for its food security needs. "At the laboratory level, Pakistan has developed GMOs of cotton, sugarcane, soyabean and tomatoes, but these cannot be declared in the absence of biosafety laws. Moreover, quantification of benefits cannot be ascertained unless these GMOs are released," the chairman of the national Commission on biotechnology, Dr Anwar Nasim, said.
Rights activists and non-government groups also say that the government's rules for GMOs need to go beyond laboratory or transportation handling as outlined in UN instruments. Aftab Alam of Action Aid says that the guidelines do not cover the trade in GM products or identify and evaluate potential adverse effects on the environment or human health. Attempts by the government to thrash out biosafety guidelines earlier this year stalled, and the costs of the delay in drawing up these regulations are already being felt.
In early September, farmers in Pakistan's Hydrabad district complained to the agriculture ministry that 1,600 hectares of planted cotton had been hit by an unknown disease that had turned the otherwise white flower of the cotton plant red.
Following an inspection of the site, government scientists declared that genetically engineered cotton, or Bt cotton, smuggled from Australia in hand luggage, had been sown on the land despite a government ban on such imports. The exact cause of the reddening disease is still being investigated.
In Goth Allah Wasayah village in southern Sindh province, farmer Muhammad Ramzan, who planted Bt cotton in a 14-hectare field, found that in the space of two months an unknown reddish disease had destroyed his crops. Bt cotton is grown from cotton seeds spliced with genes taken from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is deadly to the bollworm pest.
It was amid such reports that Pakistan decided in September to lift the ban on importing GM seeds. More than 20 million of Pakistan's 143 million people depend on cotton for their livelihood, and the country gets 60 percent of its annual foreign exchange earnings from the crop. Failures of Bt crops have also been reported in recent months in neighboring India, and some states there have banned the sale of Bt cotton seeds.
Government research work on GE cotton in Pakistan began in the mid-1990s by the Nuclear Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering after successive cotton harvests were hit by pests, causing extensive damage to the cotton-based farm economy.
Despite the ill effects recently attributed to GE cotton, Pakistani scientists have long held that GE cotton varieties could be created to ensure a disease-free crop that would result in low costs for farmers and greater predictability in export earnings.
Nasim says cotton curl-leaf disease alone causes $120 million in losses every year, but scientists cannot release resistant varieties unless biosafety laws are in place. (Inter Press Service)
Resisting GE or Die Ultimatum:
Force-feeding the world: http://ngin.tripod.com/forcefeed.htm