Pakistan needs Biotech to promote sustainable agriculture

LAHORE: Biotechnology has been able to help farmers produce more while reducing the risks the farmer assumes and the resources used. More than 200 billion meals containing biotech ingredients have been eaten over the last 10 years by hundreds of millions of people without one single health incident having been identified. This is not surprising given the important role that the comprehensive regulatory requirements including the science-based safety assessments prior to granting market access plays in assuring this.

Since the first biotech crops were grown commercially, many people have looked for evidence of harm amongst the hundreds of millions of people who have eaten biotech food derived from such crops. No harm has ever been found which speaks volumes for the comprehensive regulatory requirements including the science-based safety assessments prior to granting market access.

Unlike many consumer products available on the market today, in Pakistan as elsewhere in the world, food, feed, fibre and fuel products made with the help of modern biotechnology need to be authorized before they can be commercialized in Pakistan as in elsewhere in the world. Indeed all biotech (or genetically modified) plants used for food or food ingredients, feed, fibre and fuel, must undergo rigorous reviews of their safety as part of the authorization procedure before they can be made commercially available to farmers.

The principles on which the safety of genetically modified products is based is on shared OECD guidelines. The safety of genetically modified products is also verified and discussed at a global level by major regulatory bodies to ensure harmonization of principles and study requirements, which is beneficial to all parties involved. The Codex Alimentarius, the food rule-making body of the United Nations, is particularly important in this global harmonization effort. The systems in place have also been reviewed by eminent scientific bodies. The EU Scientific Committees on Plants and on Foods, the UK Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, the French Academies of Science and Medicine, the Joint Research Centre, and many others have all come to the same conclusion: biotech foods that are currently on the market are at least as safe as any other foods we eat.

Pakistan’s regulatory framework is consistent with these international guidelines. In Pakistan, the task of assessing new biotech products is carried out by the National Biosafety Committee (NBC). The NBC has a panel of independent scientific experts called the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) that analyzes the safety of the products. This panel ensures that the highest standards of safety are applied when testing new biotech crops. Only products that have been assessed as safe are allowed to go to market.

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