Soybean cargo: an unfortunate ‘hack’ – BR Research

Soybean cargo: an unfortunate ‘hack’ – BR Research

Finally, the issue of stalled GMO soybean cargoes imported from the US and Brazil has been resolved. Over the weekend, the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) ordered the Department of Climate Change to issue approval for deliberate release at once as a special case under Rule 27 of the Biosecurity Rules, 2005. Solvent extractors – who were tied up in financial liabilities of up to c. 350 million dollars – must be relieved. But is the right solution reached in the wrong way?

Depends on what happens next. The text of the FTO order indicates that the one-off approval may have been thrown as a lifeline to the actors in the solvent extraction, some of whom have potentially been exposed to crime and would have had to declare force majeure on their payment obligations to the banks and suppliers. However, the order does not clarify whether the government of Pakistan will now move towards a proper regularization of biotechnology trade on a permanent basis (of plant-based materials such as grains and seeds), or whether the solvent extraction and animal feed industries will be forced to look for non-GMO-based raw materials from the global commodity market.

The Federal Food Safety Minister reportedly drew a line in the sand in his interaction with the industry representatives, declaring that GMO-based products would not be allowed under the watch. The manner in which the federal government has finally resolved the matter – by resorting to a legal ‘jugaad’ (Urdu slang for hack) – may indicate that the minister stood firm on his position until the very end.

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If the government of Pakistan seeks to grant formal approval to the commercial import of genetically engineered products, the path to such approval will be through the Ministry of Food Safety. Under the biosafety rules, any commercial import of genetically engineered products for the purpose of food, feed or processing (FFP) requires an approval from the National Biosafety Committee (NBC), an interministerial body with representation from the EPA, commerce, food safety, health services, climate change, public research institutes and the department for strategic planning!

According to documents obtained by BR Research, a technical advisory sub-committee formed under the NBC in February 2022 sent a draft policy on FFP import regulations to relevant ministries for comments and technical review. Given the opposition from the federal food security minister, the recommendations remain unlikely to receive his ministry’s assent. Those who follow the subject closely will remember that back in 2019 the decision to allow the commercial release of GMO maize (for cultivation) was also shot down at the last minute following unfavorable comments from the ISI and SPD representatives in a discussion convened by the federal government .

Given the opposition from powerful quarters, and the critical role the federal food security minister played in completing the numbers game for the ruling coalition back in April 2022, it seems unlikely the federal government will risk approval at this stage. Political considerations may then, it seems, once again override common sense.

By failing to build a consensus on biotechnology – one way or the other – Pakistan continues to miss out on both ends. On the one hand, Pakistan is one of the world’s largest GMO markets, where many food and feed products – from edible oil (such as rapeseed) to animal feed are certainly GMO-based, but have no labeling scheme that certifies the same. Moreover, by not allowing commercial import and cultivation, Pakistan continues to miss a major opportunity to increase farm yields and produce an exportable surplus. On the other hand, because locally produced products (like Bt. cotton seed meal) lack traceability, Pakistan continues to miss out on multi-billion dollar non-GMO markets like the EU, even if it halts commercial imports of GMO soybeans going forward.

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All hail the ‘jugaado’ nation!

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