Pakistan should urgently revisit its biosafety guidelines to secure investments made by the government in this technology over the years.

Apart from revisiting, there is a need to build up the capacity of concerned government departments to execute policies, since such departments are understaffed and cannot deliver.

“Pakistan has been investing actively in the development of biotechnology especially agricultural biotechnology,” revealed a study conducted by the Forman Christian College.

However, due to a lack of compliance with already enacted regulatory procedures the utilisation of this technology has been relatively slow. Besides, there exists confusion regarding the adoption of genetically modified organism (GMO) technology among the policymakers and regulators.

The study highlighted that nearly all the crops are being studied for improving their productivity, quality and nutritious status using modern genetic engineering technologies.

The majority of these crops except cotton are food crops.

Such studies are also being internationally undertaken. An increasing number of countries are adopting GM crops in their food system. According to our regulators, Pakistan is a GM food free country.

The study emphasised that there is an urgent need to revisit our biosafety guidelines which do not impose restrictions. It was demonstrated that after much investment by the government in this technology, its utilisation must be ensured especially by creating an efficient regulatory system.

The study highlighted that absence of guidelines has been an obstacle in the commercialisation and for attracting investment by the private and multinational companies (MNCs). These guidelines were eventually approved in 2005 and were made part of the Environmental Protection Act.

Recommendations

The study suggested that regulations related to agricultural biotechnology such as genome editing should be primary evidence-driven with a strong focus on ‘regulation commensurate with risk’.

It added that the changes in technology should be reflected in relevant domestic and international regulatory frameworks such as Cartagena Protocol and domestic biosafety guidelines.

The report said that harmonisation of regulations will be crucial for successful and inclusive benefits from agricultural biotechnology. Harmonisation will serve to reduce trade barriers and also allow small companies to enter the market.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2021.

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