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Pakistan’s poultry is being fed poison. But not in the form of genetically modified (GMO) soybean or canola seeds fraudulently imported by solvent extractors, as claimed by the Food Security minister. It is in fact being fed poison under the explicit directions of the ministry itself. But before explaining what that poison is, let’s address a few mysteries first.

First, is Pakistan a GMO cultivating country? Yes. Pakistani farmers have been cultivating Bt. Cotton since as early as 2004, which was retroactively regularized in 2010. Today, almost all locally grown cotton is of GMO variety. The food security ministry, under the watchful eye of Pakistan Central Cotton Committee (and CCRI), has approved at least 25+ genetically modified cotton varieties for commercial cultivation.

Second, are locally grown GMOs part of animal feed value chain? Yes. Cottonseeds –by product of the ginning process – are a key source of livestock meals commonly known as khal or binola, a rich source of protein for ruminants. According to SBP, the share of cottonseed meal in domestic oilseed meal consumption stands at 33 percent. Therefore, by consuming locally produced dairy and meat products, Pakistanis have been indirectly consuming GMO based products for at least past 15 years.

Third, does the human population consume GMOs directly? Yes. GMOs are also directly consumed by Pakistanis in the form of edible oil. Cottonseeds contribute nearly 9 percent of total domestic edible oil consumption and are used as an ingredient for production of both vanaspati and soft cooking oils. If GMOs cause cancer, local consumption may already be way past the tipping point. Even the vegans are not ‘safe’.

Fourth, is there a substitute to soybean-based feed for poultry? Soybean meals are claimed to be rich in healthy amino acids, that help livestock gain weight and muscle. According to APSEA, soybeans contribute 25 percent of poultry feed by volume, and have helped improve feed conversion ratio from 2.5 to 1.5 times. This means that an average farmed bird gains 1kg weight by consuming 1.5kg of feed. In effect, soybeans offer greater bang for the buck, in turn helping lower prices of poultry products for consumers. According to K&N’s Khalil Sattar, you could feed desi chicken non-GMO grains-based diet for 6 months, and it wouldn’t reach the same weight as broiler does in 6 weeks.

Fifth, has government of Pakistan permitted import of GMO based products into the country for commercial purposes? No. As BR Research has previously explained, commercial importers must obtain a license to import GMOs from the National Biosafety Committee. Under the National Biosafety Rules, the Environmental Protection Agency may issue such a license upon the recommendation of NBC. To date, EPA has not granted any permits.

Sixth, why is such a permit required, given Pakistan is already a GMO market? Because under the biosafety rules, the safety of every GMO ‘event’ must be separately assessed for biosecurity risks, before it is granted permission for cultivation, processing, or food/feed consumption. This is in line with global practices under Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, 2003 to which Pakistan is a signatory. Over 173 countries have ratified the Protocol, including top GMO exporters such as Brazil.

Seventh, if EPA has not issued any licenses, were solvent extractors mis-declaring their cargoes of GM soybean and canola? No. According to documents obtained by BR Research, the conditions under the import permit issued by Department of Plant Protection for import of soybean seeds for human consumption states that in absence of a valid license from EPA, the plant material must be fumigated with methyl bromide, to ensure “devitalization” of the seed.

Which brings us to the poison. Methyl bromide is a toxic pesticide that was banned under the Montreal Protocol due to its rapid ozone depleting properties. It is a carcinogen regulated under OSHA, which also causes respiratory, kidney, and neurological damage, while prolonged exposure can be fatal. According to the UN Environment Programme, the chemical has been phased out in most OECD countries.

Why then does DPP want to fight a potential carcinogen, GMOs, with a proven one?As the custodian of biosafety of local plant material and environment, the DPP took upon itself to ensure that the GMO seeds imported are not misused for cultivation locally. By fumigating the cargoes before they exit port, DPP - in its vast wisdom – makes sure that GMOs ‘plant material’ is devitalized, meaning made sterile or unfertile for sowing.

Clearly, accepting the significance of soybean for local poultry feed industry, an interim ‘arrangement’ was reached at some point between the solvent extractors and DPP to bypass the absence of license from EPA to import GMOs. This has now attracted scrutiny. Reportedly, it was suggested that in order to circumvent the risk to environment in absence of EPA license, and at the same time avoid potential shortage of poultry products, the industry should revert to import of soybean meals instead of soybean seeds. Is there any evidence that meals prepared from GM soybean are any less dangerous to human health than the seeds? It boggles the mind that the Food Security ministry is more concerned about the dangers to the environment than the dangers to human health.

If unknown risks to human health are of primary concern, policymakers have miserably failed to protect Pakistanis from the dangers of GMO, both in human food and animal feed. To date, no study or research by MNFS&R has been conducted to declare that GMO cottonseed is safe for consumption.The National Biosafety Committee does not require labelling of GMO-based products for those who seek to avoid them.Customs Intelligence’s decision to flag the shipments of GMO soybean and canola may very well be as per law, but in BR Research’s considered view, the law has failed the public miserably.

How? Over 150+ countries allow GMO based products for food, feed, and processing, including China and EU, USA and Canada. 64 countries, however, require labelling of food and feed products that include genetically modified ingredients. Hundred of food products imported by Pakistan – including soybeans and canola – are also GMO-based. This includes popular supermarket items such as soy sauce, sweet- and pop corns. In fact, the famously imported French fries from Golden Arches are most likely GMO too, as vegetables and fruits grown in the US - from potatoes, tomatoes, to apples, melons, pineapples, and papaya are genetically modified. Even the famous American pink salmon that halal-seeking Muslim visitors to US so happily consume, is also GMO.

From cottonseeds, to imported fries and salmon, the entire edifice of Pakistan’s food and feed value chain – both locally produced and imported – is operating in a legal vacuum. The soybean and canola shipments currently bonded at port have brought to highlight only the tip of that iceberg.

The controversial history of Pakistan’s GMO question is not one of federal minister’s doing. However, a problematic situation has now escalated into open PR warfare between industry association and the ministry.It is obvious that the minister does not want to be the one responsible for something as momentous as legalization of GMOs. Fair enough, as no one should be compelled to make decisions based on incomplete information. But by risking a food shortage, he is playing with fire, and possibly the future of the coalition government at center. He should step aside and let those competent to step up and do the job.

Comments

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M.Khalid Shahbaz Dec 05, 2022 09:45am
poultry lobby managed this article end too. should be bow to the unfair practice going on under the threat of food shortage.............chicken only.........
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Aamir Dec 05, 2022 02:03pm
Under the pretext of food shortage why should GMO be allowed? It is even clear from your above article that a permit was required. In the absence of permit the importers were importing it and now they are creating a narrative that there will be food shortage. Your article makes a point for revision of the rules but the revision can be for future after comprehensive study not for allowing already imported seeds to be cleared) which were in clear violation of the applicable customs rules at the time.
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Kh M Hussain Dec 05, 2022 03:07pm
I agree with this article... I don't belong to Poultry business....in my point of view, Govt should allow to release the soya bean and canola shipments... otherwise sever chicken shortage will come, which will increase chicken rate very high....and people will get against current govt
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Dr. Aqib Dec 05, 2022 04:52pm
@Aamir and other interseted, For future the import permission for living modified organism (LMO) oilseeds for food, feed and processing (FFP) use is requested to be processed and granted as explained in Pakistan Biosafety Rules 2005. However, for providing an immediate resolution to the issue of already arrived nine ships with soybean and canola oilseeds, the precedent of giving ad hoc permission to Bt Cotton in 2010 can provide guidance and should be used. Also, under Rule 25 (2) and Rule 27 of the Pakistan Biosafety Rules 2005, Ministry of Climate Change (NBC/EPA) can issue Release Orders for the soybean/canola oilseeds imports till import permission/licenses for LMO oilseeds procedures are streamlined.
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Dr. Aqib Dec 05, 2022 04:54pm
For future the import permission for living modified organism (LMO) oilseeds for food, feed and processing (FFP) use is requested to be processed and granted as explained in Pakistan Biosafety Rules 2005. However, for providing an immediate resolution to the issue of already arrived nine ships with soybean and canola oilseeds, the precedent of giving ad hoc permission to Bt Cotton in 2010 can provide guidance and should be used. Also, under Rule 25 (2) and Rule 27 of the Pakistan Biosafety Rules 2005, Ministry of Climate Change (NBC/EPA) can issue Release Orders for the soybean/canola oilseeds imports till import permission/licenses for LMO oilseeds procedures are streamlined.
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Dr. Aqib Dec 05, 2022 05:12pm
or future the import permission for living modified organism (LMO) oilseeds for food, feed and processing (FFP) use is requested to be processed and granted as explained in Pakistan Biosafety Rules 2005. However, for providing an immediate resolution to the issue of already arrived nine ships with soybean and canola oilseeds, the precedent of giving ad hoc permission to Bt Cotton in 2010 can provide guidance and should be used. Also, under Rule 25 (2) and Rule 27 of the Pakistan Biosafety Rules 2005, Ministry of Climate Change (NBC/EPA) can issue Release Orders for the soybean/canola oilseeds imports till import permission/licenses for LMO oilseeds procedures are streamlined.
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Hafiz wasi Dec 05, 2022 05:25pm
Well explained the current situation of shipment of soya bean and suggestion of future map in this regard
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Hafsa Jawed Dec 05, 2022 07:10pm
I have a question, do any other livestock consume GMO feed? And what about majority vegetables grown in the country? None seem to be GMO, but the shortage due to floods causing to import many vegetables such as onions, they seem very GMOesque.
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Faisal hayat Dec 06, 2022 11:07am
I think it is not a complex matter of concern. By land rules it is illegal to import GMO commodity or seed without seeking permission and poultry industry is importing the same soya since last 5-6 years. Now 5-6 ships of soyabean are on port and the Soya has been declared as GMO. Now Govt has to take the lead by seeing the interests of the country as well as the poultry industry. To me, Govt should constitute a panel of GMO experts to take the decision by reviewing the consequences of GMO Soya in poultry meat and its impact on human health. A lenient view by Govt may solve the problem by giving one time permission and then policy implementation for the future.
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