NA committee over GMO oilseed import ends in war of words

US ambassador had also called on me for clearance of soyabean vessels: Cheema

ISLAMABAD: In a conflict that is increasingly becoming ugly, after the minister of food security exchanged harsh words with oilseed importers in a session of the national assembly’s standing committee for food security.

The issue has been ongoing since October, when two shipments of vital GMO oilseeds were stopped at Port Qasim in Karachi because they did not have the necessary certification from the climate change  ministry. 

Read more: Oilseeds vessels remain stuck at port as confusion prevails between ministries

The meeting of the standing committee on Wednesday started off on the wrong foot after the minister for food security, Tariq Bashir Cheema, walked into the meeting where oilseed importers were also present. The minister took exception to this, saying that representatives of soybean importers were not welcome at a meeting of a parliamentary committee. 

During the meeting of the standing committee chaired by MNA Rao Ajmal, minister for food security Tariq Bashir Cheema engaged in verbal blows with oilseed importers. The minister said that the import of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is not allowed in Pakistan. 

“You yourself leave the session,” the importers representative responded to the minister. “Nine vessels with GMO soybean cargo have been seized over illegal cargo. Customs Intelligence has ceased ships. We could not be part of any illegal practice,” Cheema stressed. “GMO soybean causes cancer thus its import has not been allowed,” he further said.

“It seems that the chairman of the committee has also become an advocate of soyabean importers,” he said. At this, committee chairman Rao Ajmal and Tariq Bashir exchanged harsh words over the comment. 

“I am going to adjourn the committee session if Mr. Cheeman doesn’t take back his words,” he warned. “I am not advocating for anyone. The poultry industry has been on the verge of destruction, and 10 of my 12 farms have closed down yet I haven’t used my position to try and influence anything. Why would I be doing this now?”

“Only import of non-GMO soybean has been allowed. The US ambassador had also called on me for clearance of soyabean vessels,” the food minister retorted. “Give one-time clearance to soybean vessels,” he asked. “How can Pakistan allow a thing, which has been banned in the USA,” the minister said.

Later, speaking to Profit,  Nawab Shehzad Ali Khan, representative of All Pakistan Solvent Extractors’ Association (APSEA), said no progress has been made regarding the clearance of the vessels. “Let’s see who wins,” he said, indicating the differences and fights between the food minister and importers.

The Committee condemned in the strongest words the misbehavior and abusive language used by Mr. Shahid Abdullah, Director Technical Department of Plant Protection (DPP) M/o National Food Security and Research during the meeting of the Committee. The Committee directed the Secretary, NFS&R to immediately take strong disciplinary action should be taken against him and a compliance report therefore be sent to the Committee at the earliest.  

The meeting was also attended by MNAs including Riaz ul Haq, Ahmad Raza Maneka, Ch. Faqir Ahmed, Syed Javed Ali Shah Jillani, Mr. Kamal Ud-din, and senior officers/ officials from the Ministry of NFS&R, Ministry of Climate Change and DPP.

As per documents available with this scribe, at least 257 vessels of oilseed have been imported by Pakistan from 2017 to February 2022 without GMO test or certification out of which 132 vessels fumigated by DPP. In 2021 53 vessels were imported out of which 45 vessels were fumigated by the department. Till February 2022 at least six vessels of oilseed were imported and the same were fumigated. Currently six vessels of oilseed were stuck up at port while another three vessels were on their way to Pakistan.

 

 

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Ghulam Abbas
Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]

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