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‘Senate’s passing of seed law to flood market with harmful GM food’

‘Senate’s passing of seed law to flood market with harmful GM food’

KARACHI: There is a looming food security crisis in Pakistan which the state is apparently unequipped to handle efficiently, and allowing genetically modified (GM) seeds to placate the crisis is not the answer, said Prof Dr Shahida Wizarat in a lecture titled ‘Towards achieving food security in Pakistan’ organised by the applied economics research centre at Karachi University on Thursday.

Dr Wizarat is director fore research and heading the economics department at the Institute of Business Management, Karachi, and has been studying the alarming shifts in food production from traditional organic means to more mechanised farming techniques employing GM seeds that supposedly have higher yields but none of the nutrients.

Dr Wizarat raised serious concerns about amendments to the Seed Act, 1976 which were quietly passed by the assembly without analysing its long-term impact. The Seed (Amendment) Act, 2014, is now with the Senate and if passed, Dr Wizarat believes, will flood markets with GM seeds to the detriment of farmers besides the public.

An alarming amount of crop production around the world is shifting towards the use of GM seeds, even though studies suggest the dangers involved include unpredictable side effects such as allergies, surge of toxins in the body, nutritional problems, and can, in different compositions, prove to be fatal.

Touted as means to end global food insecurity, farming of GM crops has become widespread, especially in developing countries without the necessary legislation; manufacturers can easily bypass quality controls as laws have still not been formed and enforced to monitor crops produced through this method. “Most food stuffs are not labelled in countries such as Pakistan, and as a result we are not aware that their DNA has been altered and we are only swallowing food to fill our stomachs,” said Dr Wizarat.

Although the developing world has essentially become a dumping ground for GM seeds and crops, European countries and the West have stringent laws in place to restrict markets being flooded with such crops to prevent adverse effects on the environment, as well as protecting health and safety of humans and animals. More and more people around the world are also consciously turning to organic produce for health purposes.

Dr Wizarat commented on the fluctuations in crop production in Pakistan over the past few years. “Pakistan’s agricultural department is heavily dependent on the weather and the department to boot is badly managed; one year will yield a bumper crop and the next year will require imports,” she said. As a result, imports of food stuff from countries like Russia, India, Canada and Australia have allowed GM crops to be widely available in grocery stores and vegetable markets.

“The yield is symmetrical and beautiful to look at. However, it lacks the nutrients organic food possesses. Are we guinea pigs that our health is being compromised,” she questioned.

Dr Wizarat fears that if the Senate passes the bill, GM seed manufacturers will soon be making inroads into Pakistan. “Elected representatives unfortunately have no interest in the health of Pakistanis and are out to make a quick buck,” she said.

To counter this, one of the alternates she has proposed includes widespread protest against non-labelling of GM foods available in the market. She also suggested a plan to distribute small farms, untainted by GM produce, to landless peasants to encourage wider availability of organic food in Pakistan.

“Also, many individuals have started growing organic crops within their homes. This should be a widely-accepted practice throughout the country and allow barter and buying and selling among small-scale, private producers, bypassing the market completely,” Dr Wizarat added.

What the discussion however, could not encompass due to time constraints was an alternative outlook to the use of GM seeds to aid countries suffering from famine and food scarcity. Also, a discussion on the role of seed manufacturers and their lobbying, the economics of the use of GM seeds, and compromising on the intellectual right of farmers also require in-depth debate.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2015

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