by Najma Sadeque
Monsanto dugs its heels in Pakistan
Coming from a politician or bureaucrat, it wouldn’t have been surprising. But it was unexpected from the Vice Chancellor of Faisalabad University of Agriculture when he claimed that GMOs would “bring about a new green revolution based on biotechnology, precision agriculture and climate change.” As if the first Green Revolution wasn’t bad enough! If it was for citizens’ benefit, why wasn’t Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan addressing sustainable farmers and concerned citizens, instead of briefing diplomats from 24 countries? That fit more into loaded trade and investment talks, not a country’s delicate agricultural security.
Dr Khan offers no evidence based on local research whatsoever to prove that GMOs are “a great and safe invention that would enhance crop productivity”. He seems oblivious of the fact that even GM seed-producing corporations don’t make that claim.
“Where is the independent data which shows that GM Corn would increase average yield?” demands Ijaz Ahmed Rao, professional farmer, graduated from Australia, “Data from USDA clearly shows that despite GM technologies (Insect-resistant (Bt), Herbicide-tolerant, Stacked gene varieties), yields in USA have not increased since 1987!”
Rao sounds an alarm the government must note – that Pakistan’s corn exports to Europe and elsewhere would be seriously affected as they import non-GM corn and corn products from Pakistan at premium rates and on bases of certification. Far from boosting Pakistan’s output and earnings, Bt corn would be the ideal weapon to destroy our exports to Europe which recently banned Monsanto and other GMOs, with ongoing plans to wipe them out completely.
Similarly, sans evidence, Dr Khan claims that Bt (GM) cotton increased productivity while pesticide-application was reduced in Pakistan. Strange indeed, when in the rest of the world – including USA, the heaviest GM user – it rapidly lost resistance to pests and required increasing amounts of pesticides, now multiplied several-fold.
He disregards India’s terrible 15-year experience with Monsanto’s Bt cotton that, with Monsanto’s overpriced products and unfair practices, led to over 300,000 suicides since 1995, making India the world’s farmers’ suicide centre. Should we be joining their ranks?
Indeed, Dr Khan ignores Monsanto’s long and ignominious history around the world – originally a chemical corporation that co-supplied 19 million gallons of herbicide to defoliate Vietnam’s forests and crops on 4.5 million acres over 11 years, killing or maiming 400,000, causing half a million deformed children born, helpless and dependant for life, and two million cancer cases. After diverse other ventures, Monsanto got into GM seeds which are ‘successful’ only if Monsanto’s accompanying poisonous chemicals are heavily sprayed.
While appearing to promote Monsanto’s planned launch of ‘Herbicide Resistance Corn’, Dr Khan was blind to the dangerous ground he was treading on. Chemically-grown food crops have already lost nutritive value and led to malnutrition, in both South countries and USA.
Because it wasn’t reported here, the VC probably doesn’t know that on May 25, over two million participants in 436 cities across 52 countries, protested against Monsanto, demanding it gets out from everywhere. This, apart from the long-standing, ongoing “Millions against Monsanto” campaign that informs and brings together concerned citizens and activists globally.
Or that the Carnival of Corn in Mexico City coincided with and joined the global protest. Mexico was the cradle of corn boasting thousands of corn varieties; it needed no more, let alone GM corn, from outside. But their own president sold his country out to Monsanto and other GM corporations, just as Bush and Obama did the same to their people. In country after country, it was not the merit of the product but officials that succumbed to tempting lures.
And last week Japan and South Korea cancelled huge contracts for US wheat when it was revealed Monsanto’s unapproved GM seeds had contaminated vast farmlands in USA.
Monsanto dug in its heels in Pakistan over a decade ago since Musharraf’s time. The General probably didn’t understand agriculture which may have made it easy to sway him. His regime unilaterally sanctioned corporate farming, which is increasingly pursued with GM seeds. The timing was significant.
When Musharraf’s rule ended, the PPP government dealt an unexpected shock when Mr. Gilani’s very first speech as prime minister ended with the incongruous announcement – having nothing to do with his political statements – that they had decided to let Monsanto in. Clearly, political changes did not undo special interests. Since then, ceaseless crises in Pakistan have kept attention diverted from Monsanto activities in Pakistan.
Dr Khan should remember the ‘Precautionary Principle’ – unless he’s excluded ecology from agriculture – and investigate the extent of unchecked contamination in Pakistan. GM monoculture threatens to wipe out what’s left of our biodiversity without which even GM can’t continue, will further chemical-drench and kill our deteriorating farmlands, while he risks being remembered among the short-sighted responsible for near-extinction of species.
Published in Pakistan Today on June 13, 2013 http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/06/12/comment/columns/genetically-modified-threats/