As genetically modified crops pop up ever increasingly in Pakistan without a legal framework within which pesticide-resistant varieties of Bt cotton and Bt corn can be scientifically assessed, the Lahore High Court has ordered Pakistan’s federal government to halt all licensing for GM corn or cotton.
This decision will result in a complete stall of all supply and sale of GM seeds in Pakistan, especially those which are altered with high pesticide and herbicide resistance. Considering that these crops have elsewhere been found to cause super bugs, super weeds, and human and animal illnesses, it is a forward-thinking decision by Pakistani officials. The decision affects 23 varieties of Bt cotton and 14 new Bt corn varieties, which were planned for market release in 2014.
Of these 23 varieties, the GM corn strain MIR162, and MON810 have both already been banned in China and parts of the European Union.
Leading to the court’s decision was a public interest petition filed by a farmer’s rights network called the Kisan Board Pakistan. The petition disputes the 12th meeting of the National Bio-Safety Committee (NBC) held on March 12, 2014 in which applications for 23 new varieties of GM corn and 14 applications for new varieties of GM cotton were being considered for mass release.
This is also not the first time that farmers have raised concerns about GM seed to Pakistani officials. The Farmers Association of Pakistan has complained in the past about low quality Bt cotton seeds.
This decision will hopefully further the installment of a strong regulatory system in Pakistan so that GM crop strains can be analyzed before they are haphazardly strewn across their agricultural lands.
Chaudhry Gohar, a progressive cotton farmer from Multan, told a local paper:
“The use of uncertified varieties of GM seeds increase input costs for farmers. The low levels of pest resistance in these seeds have increased insects’ immunity, necessitating the use of nearly double the normal amount of pesticides. The NBC also relaxed germination levels for crops from 75 per cent under Seed Act, 1976 to less than 50 percent.”
A spokesperson for the Kisan Board which filed the dispute over the new strains being considered for market has said:
“We needed to stop the government from approving uncertified GMOs. Pakistan’s textile industry will suffer the most if the quality of our cotton deteriorates.”
In addition to these notable outcomes, should the new GM strains be approved, the petition points out that proper tests and risks assessments have not been made, and therefore, planting GM corn and cotton is not safe for Pakistani farmers or consumers of those crops.
A senior official Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) official said:
“Since the passage of the 18th Amendment, however, none of the provinces had taken steps to provide a new regulatory regime for GMOs, leaving a legal vacuum.”
Hopefully this decision allows the legal infrastructure to be put into place to halt further GM crop production.