The move can have a negative impact on the crop production besides posing risks to the export of cotton products, especially to the western countries under the EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus status granted to Pakistan.
Under the bio-safety guidelines 2005, all GM organisms should be tested for at least two years before they are sold in the markets. Last month, advertisements sponsored by the Punjab government started appearing in national Urdu newspapers for the sale of 23 Bt (or genetically modified) cotton seeds to farmers.
“The GM seed varieties have to be registered with the Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department under the Seed Act 1976 and Seed Rules 1987. The department issues certification to private companies and government institutions for sale after it has verified the bio-safety data – impact on the environment and human health for two years,” said an expert in the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC).
Dr M. Ibrahim Mughal, the chairman of the Agro-Farm Pakistan, added, “Cotton makes up for US$ 17 billion of the US$ 25 billion agriculture industry. Nobody in the government and private sector realises that we are destroying the cotton industry.”
According to Pakistani media reports, in April 2010 eight Bt cotton varieties and one hybrid variety was approved by the Punjab Seed Council for cultivation in the province. Four of the varieties were approved on a provisional basis for one year for field performance/monitoring and all other Bt seeds and hybrid for three years. This provisional exemption was given knowing that the quality of cotton fiber, especially (micronaire value and staple length), was lower than fiber quality standards with low Bt toxin levels to kill pests.
The private companies were to use these for 1-3 years to improve the crop quality. However, the companies never submitted their progress reports. The technical advisory committee recommended on February 13, 2014, an extension in the commercialisation of the varieties approved in 2010 for three years, which had expired in 2013. Further provisional approval would be granted for two years.
“The seed companies failed to submit to the National Bio-Safety Committee local bio-safety and risk assessment data on the quality of seed and its impacts on the environment. The substandard seed is back on sale to the farmers in the market,” said the expert.
The exemption was, however, also a clear violation of the Bio-Safety Guidelines 2005 and the Seed Act 1976, said the scientist. According to other experts in PARC, GM seeds undergo distinctness, uniformity and stability or DUS test, imperative under the Seed Act 1976 and Seed Act 1986.
In October 2012, the International Cotton Advisory Committee, US, in its country report on Pakistan’s cotton sector expressed concern that because of Bt cotton use in Pakistan minor pests like red bug, dusky bug etc., had become major pests of cotton.