As the global trend for a complete ban on genetically modified organisms (GMO) escalates, it comes as no surprise to learn that the multinational corporations — the ones producing and marketing these highly questionable seeds and associated products — are suddenly going all out to corner unsuspecting farmers in Pakistan.
Markets in most European countries, along with the majority of South American countries, Russia and numerous other nations around the globe are now closed to these corporations. India is on the verge of following suit. Corporations, including Monsanto and Synergen, are reportedly pressuring the National Bio-Safety Committee of the Ministry of Environment to grant them full and unrestricted access to potentially lucrative markets here.
The controversy surrounding GMO seeds and food items containing GMO products has been raging for some years now. Those supporting GMO products claim that there is no scientific proof of them being dangerous to human, animal or environmental health. Those standing against the products claim otherwise and cite cases such as GMO-related food allergies from GMO corn products, the recent deaths of cows in Texas after they consumed GMO grass and the mutation of insects that have developed resistance to the pesticides that are ‘in-built’ in GMO plants. The uncontrollable cross pollination of GMO crops with wild plants has reportedly decimated some indigenous species and caused others to grow to unnatural proportions, in Canada for example, and this, opponents say, is just the tip of the potentially lethal GMO iceberg.
The battle for control of global food supplies via aggressive marketing of GMOs — seeds of which must be purchased each season — promises to get extremely nasty in the months to come. A variety of moves aimed at making it illegal for commercial and private growers to cultivate heritage varieties of edible plants from which seeds can be saved — at no cost, for growing in future years — have also been put in place and they just add to the mess. Protestors in America are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by physically uprooting or burning GMO crops. There are reports that Monsanto is investing heavily in its own private army to safeguard its commercial interests.
Russian Premier Vladimir Putin spoke out for many when he furiously denounced Monsanto recently, saying that it may “take a war to stop them”. Yet, sadly, the cotton lobby in Pakistan appears set on demanding that GMO cotton be made available as soon as conceivably possible. Lobbyists claim that only by growing GMO cotton — which is claimed to be highly productive and requires less inputs as pesticides are already inside the plants — will farmers be tempted back from their recent swing towards rice cultivation instead.
The cotton lobby, however, has failed to factor in the reason farmers are now opting for rice: there has not been a good cotton crop since 2009, as each year since then, huge losses have been incurred due to torrential rain and floods, which cotton cannot tolerate — but rice can. Introducing GMO cotton will not alter this climatic fact.
Allowing even a single GMO variety to be marketed in Pakistan is to invite disaster in and the National Bio-Safety Committee would do well to examine the situation in Indian Punjab, where the cultivation of GMOs literally killed fertile land and resulted in thousands of farmers committing suicide due to massive accumulation of un-payable debt.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2013.
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