The government move to approve genetically modified organism (GMO) crops will put agricultural export worth $600 million at risk amid likely embargo by the importing nations especially in the EU and Middle East, exporters and officials concerned said.
The government is in a hurry to approve GMO crops like rice, brinjal, and potato and release those in the country.
Last month, the National Bio-Safety Committee approved genetically engineered varieties— ‘Golden Rice’ and potato. Earlier the government approved four varieties of Bt Brinjal, the controversial GM crop banned in India and the Philippines.
Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) officials said the country exported agricultural produce worth $535 million in the last financial year (2012-13) and the shipment will surpass $600 million in the current financial year, reports the Financial Express (FE).
The export is showing a healthy trend and exporters of vegetables, fruits and other crops earned $189.31 million in the first four months of the current financial year (2013-14).
Countries in the EU and Middle East are the major buyers of Bangladeshi agricultural products including vegetables, fruits, dry food, flowers, tea etc, according to EPB.
Nearly 0.1 million tonnes of potato and a limited amount of rice are also exported to different countries.
“Europe is the major destination for vegetable exporters. Activists in European countries have not only voiced strong reservations against GMO crops, their governments also banned GMO products,” an official at the EPB told the FE.
He said, “France, Germany, Spain and Austria have banned cultivation and import of GMO crops and Italy banned GMO maize last August.”
“If Bangladesh begins cultivating GMO crops like brinjal, potato and rice, the importing countries in EU could impose restrictions on Bangladeshi agro produce import, hampering country’s exports,” he said.
“The problem is that if EU imposes any embargo it would lead Middle East countries to do the same as they maintain EU standards,” he said.
The official pointed out that the importing countries could demand a different ‘certification’ for Bangladesh’s agri produce which would be labeled ‘it is not a GMO’ variety.
“We have no such approved certification agency. Even neighbouring India lacks such an agency. She is yet to approve any GMO food crop,” he added.
GMO expert and teacher at the chemical pharmacology department in Dhaka University Zobair Al Mahmud said, “We have no such plant quarantine infrastructure that GMO crop could be grown without harming or polluting other crops.”
“It is very important to remember that other varieties remain safe and that their natural habitat is protected,” he said.
When contacted, entomologist at the Plant Quarantine and Entomology division under the Plant Protection Wing of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) Md Ahsan Ullah said, “If the country moves to grow GMO crops then its plant quarantine centres should be modernised up to EU standard.”
Bangladesh Fruits, Vegetables and Allied Products Exporters Association (BFVAPEA) SM Jahangir Hossain told the FE, “The authority concerned hasn’t consulted with us before the release of GMO varieties.”
“We will expect that government will take necessary initiatives so that country’s agricultural exports would not be affected,” he urged.