The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement of working with Pakistan in the provision of soybean feed for Pakistan’s livestock industries and genetically modified (GM) corn for greater yield is welcome news. Pakistan currently uses hybrid maize seeds, which have contributed to a 75% increase in the country’s yield in twenty years. GM maize might improve this rise even further by leading to more cultivable land available and maximising the yield to land ratio.

The country needs to increase its exports long-term, and any improvement in total production, cost effectiveness and consistency in yearly numbers in the agricultural sector is likely to help in large part. Genetically modified corn, although much maligned for several reasons, has the potential to bring in all three of the above-mentioned benefits, alongside greater environmental sustainability by reducing the amount of pesticides and insecticides used in farming.

However, this is only theoretical until the state conducts a thorough research on the types of seeds being offered; GM seeds can be made resistant to either insects or stronger pesticides and insecticides. Sadly, the latter option is often taken by companies such as Monsanto and other agri-science firms which then stand to make even more profit by selling both the seed and the strongest means to kill any insects that would affect the crop – also leading to a larger carbon footprint.

Even GM seeds that are insect resistant, such as those exuding natural toxins to repel insects, have led to fears among environmentalists of the emergence of resistant insects and disturbing ecosystems through negative effects on the population of bees, for instance. It is no wonder then that the European Union was mulling the use of GM seeds all the way up to 2014 and eventually left it up to each individual member state to grant or refuse permission on a case-by-case basis.

Pakistan’s own lackadaisical pace of accepting GM seeds is also understandable – the delay in approval since it was suddenly withdrawn in 2009 might be a result of inconclusive data regarding the feasibility of GM seeds with regards to production numbers and environmental protection. Worryingly though, the lack of any public statement made by any government or bureaucratic functionary on the issue in almost a decade tells us that the issue just lies forgotten. We can only hope that the USDA’s statement leads the government to make an informed choice, not one made for the sake of convenience.