Trials of genetically
June 20, 2011: AFTER nearly succeeding in the case of Bt
cotton, the US multinational Monsanto is now lobbying for
introduction of genetically modified corn in Pakistan and
has convinced the government to have field trials of its
Some media reports say that the bureaucracy is apparently
inclined to allow its commercial planting although many
experts, academics and farmers are opposed to it.
Field trials, being closely monitored by the government
agencies to assess its cross pollination impacts, are being
conducted in Manga Mandi, about 25-30 km from Lahore. After
obtaining initial nod from the regulatory authorities,
demonstrative cultivation will take place in 2012.
A spokesperson of Monsanto claims that the field trials have
so far been successful and cross germination preventions
have proved their effectiveness. The GM corn would bring
more reliable and cost-effective solutions and that the
insect-protected corn will increase productivity. He said
that the countries that approved GM corn had allowed it for
But Prof Dr Muhammad Ashfaq, Dean, University of
Agriculture, Faisalabad, says the issue whether GM foods are
safe enough to consume remains unresolved. Although some
experts warn of possible hazards to human health in the long
run, the main issue is whether labelling GM foods would help
consumers by giving them a choice to buy or not to buy these
foods, he said.
The controversy over how safe the consumption of genetically
modified foods, seeds and products are to human health is
now 15-years old. The opposition is most intense in Europe,
Japan although GM is undesirable in most of the world for
its long-term side-effects to soil and health. The European
Union has so far approved only one genetically modified crop
â€“ maize or corn. But there is a deep divide over GM in the
Despite the approval, six countries have still imposed a
moratorium on the GM corn crop. They are France, Germany,
Luxembourg, Greece, Austria and Hungary. And even in
countries like Italy, where no formal ban applies, no one
chooses to plant the crop. However, it is cultivated on a
large-scale in Spain.
India also remains sharply divided over the legacy of Bt
cotton, the only transgenic crop now under commercial
cultivation in the country. The genetically altered cotton
seeds have increased productivity, but they are more
expensive than traditional seeds and have left some farmers
deeply in debt leading to mass suicides.
Last year India halted the commercial release of the world`s
first genetically engineered eggplant, called Bt brinjal,
for lack of consensus within the scientific community.
In the US, GM crops and seeds were developed in the 1970s,
with significant financial support from the Rockefeller
Foundation, by three chemical companies, namely, Monsanto
Chemicals, DuPont and Dow Chemicals. All the three were also
involved in the scandal of the highly toxic Agent Orange
used in Vietnam. Their marketing of GM seeds was seen as a
clever way to trap the farmers by forcing them to purchase
only their chemicals such as Roundup under a legal contract.
In Pakistan, use of modern biotechnology started in 1985.
Currently, there are 29 biotech centres or institutes in the
country. However, few centres have appropriate facilities
and trained manpower to develop GM crops. Most of the
activities have been on rice and cotton. Despite acquiring
capacity to produce transgenic plants, no GM crop has been
introduced in the country.
Their commercial release is hampered due to delays and weak
capacity of regulatory bodies related to biosafety and Plant
Breeders Rights. But it has resulted in illegal cultivation
of Bt cotton smuggled from India on a large area as there
exists a strong demand for it among the farmers community.
So far, the development of GM crops has remained restricted
to the public sector.
Monsanto has been working with the industry and the
government for introduction of Bt cotton. The American giant
looks closer to its goal for which it has been struggling
since 1998 when it entered Pakistan market. It has developed
the much-needed nexus with the bureaucracy in Islamabad.
In fact, the global financial crisis of 2007 and the
shortages it caused in supply of commodities in the world
proved to be a blessing for the multinationals selling GM
seeds and products. Japan and South Korea, long known for
consuming organically grown corn, began buying GM corn for
use in soft drinks, snacks and other foods because organic
corn prices tripled.
In the wake of last year`s floods that partially devastated
cotton crop, Pakistan`s agriculture ministry was reported to
have entered into a deal with Monsanto for large-scale
import of its Bt cotton seeds. But it remained unconfirmed.
The Seed Association of Pakistan, however, warned the Punjab
government to refrain from signing an agreement with
Monsanto, saying this will “annihilate national seed
companies, besides causing huge financial burden on the
Last year, two scientists had cautioned the government
against signing any deal with Monsanto for the introduction
of so-called “insect-resistant” Bt cotton, saying it could
harm the interests of growers. Dr Anwer Naseem, chairman,
National Commission on Biotechnology, said on March 21:
“There is a need to get sound, critical and scientific input
from experts in the country before signing a deal.”Dr Abid
Azhar, deputy director of AQ Khan Institute of Biotechnology
and Genetic Engineering, University of Karachi, had said
there were instances when growers have been forced to
purchase seeds from the multinationals for every crop after
the introduction of alien varieties. “In this way, the
multinationals have attempted to monopolise the seed
business,” he said.
However, the ministry of agriculture signed an MoU with the
US firm on April 10 and the then minister, Nazar Gondal, was
so upbeat on the occasion that he hoped it would bring an
agriculture revolution in Pakistan. It is amazing to note
American diplomats` loyalty to GM products. The US
ambassador in Paris, according to a WikiLeaks cable, advised
Washington in 2007 that it should start a military-style
trade war against any European country which opposes
genetically modified crops. His advice was in response to
moves by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety in 2007.
The ambassador, Craig Stapleton, asked Washington to
penalise the EU, particularly countries which did not
support the use of GM crops.
Courtesy: The DAWN