The fate of new genetically modified organism (GMOs) crops, waiting for commercialisation and labelling, hangs in the balance due to absence of proper legislation, as the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) has been dysfunctional for awhile, it is learnt.
Informed sources revealed to Business Recorder that Pakistan had signed an international treaty under which it was mandatory for the country to have the National Biosafety Committee as a regulatory body before introducing GMOs crops. NBC is the apex body that is empowered to grant approval for testing and commercialisation of genetically modified organisms/crops.
The NBC also authorises companies to import seeds in order to conduct field trials, and make the final regulatory decisions after following a rigorous process laid down in the committee’s rules and regulations. Secretary Environment Ministry was the chairman of the NBC; however the ministry was devolved after the 18th Constitutional Amendment and the responsibilities shifted to the Climate Change Ministry.
Changes in regulations were required to enable the Secretary of the new ministry to run the affairs effectively, sources maintained. Amendments have been proposed for legislation to make the committee functional and sent to the concerned authorities, however it is yet to be approved, sources revealed.
The NBC has not held its meeting since February 2011, which has delayed the regulatory process required to test and approve GMOs crops, said sources, adding that applications submitted by various public and private sectors organisations seeking approval of different GMO crops are yet to be reviewed by the NBC.
These include varieties of cotton, corn, wheat and sugarcane crops as the regulatory body with a mandate to test and approve new crop varieties has been almost dysfunctional since August 2011. Delay in granting approval for tests and commercialisation of GMOs is not only causing shortage of standard seeds but also is negatively affecting crops production.
Sources further said that the fate of eight new BT cotton varieties sent to NBC to get approval for commercialisation is still awaited. Pakistan opted for BT cotton cultivation and registered nine BT varieties last year and approved eight more this year, but the new varieties have to be cleared from the NBC. Out of these 17 BT varieties, one is the first registered hybrid of Indian origin, whereas rest were developed by public and private sector research organisations with first generation BT gene generally known as “Bollguard-I” or “Mon-531”, sources maintained.
The Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department, now under the administrative control of National Food Security and Research Ministry, and the Seed Regulatory Authority has registered more than 700 seed companies in the country, whereas India with almost three times area under cotton cultivation has 220 seed companies. Pakistan cotton seed requirement is nearly about 40,000 metric tons with 4-5kg seed rate per acre, sources maintained.