A renowned geneticist and agronomist cautions against the adoption of GMO crops

A renowned Ethiopian geneticist and agronomist has cautioned against the adoption of a genetically modified (GM) variety, saying that it could pose a serious threat to the tremendous genetic and biological diversity of the country. Dr. Melaku Worede, a plant geneticist and former Director of the Ethiopian Plant Genetic Resources Centre, said that any move to improve the agricultural inputs of the country should take into account the interests and desires of local farmers who have been maintaining and adapting their indigenous crop resources for centuries, and should not be imposed in a top-down fashion, he said in an interview with TechTalk With Solomon, a weekly technology TV show on Ethiopian Broadcasting Service (EBS).

Melaku, 84, said that the preservation of indigenous seed varieties which he said are not only cost-effective for farmers but was the most sustainable way to develop agriculture should be an utmost priority. “Attempts to improve agricultural outputs should be done in collaboration with farmers, not by imposing it upon them. Let us explore the genes that we have on the ground first and make good use of it. Knowledge system and the material go hand in hand, he said.

“It is too risky to rely on seeds that have no local adaptation and built-in genetic diversity. Farmers should rather be helped to improve the genetic performance of crops than to be dictated to buy costly GM seeds.  In the context it is being developed and used, GMOs has a danger. It is a double-edged sword. “Let us be careful not to be a basket case,” he told the interviewer. “From the farmer’s point view, the yield was not the only criterion, farmers place also importance to diversity in seasons, topography, taste, specific harvest that could be used for specific cultural activities, and a number of things. For farmers, sustainability is an important criterion. They have developed the strategy to spread the risk between factors of season, location, and diversity.  So their varieties will have enough plasticity to allow them to grow in diverse conditions.” he said.

Though many are voicing their concern about the risk of smallholder’s loss of sovereign control of their seeds as western companies push to enhance their access to Ethiopian markets, the Ethiopian government is showing a willingness to accept the uptake of GM seeds. In a recent meeting, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) Director, Tadesse Daba said that Bt-cotton was permitted for a confined field trial in 2016 and licensed in 2018, the first for the country. GM maize is also currently under confined field trial to check whether it really prevents diseases or not, he said.

Continue reading


A Brief prepared by Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek and Roots for Equity

Seed was born free. It has multiple functions: it is the reservoir of genetic resources, it is the basic unit for our food, it holds life in its core, essential for maintain human and all life on this planet.  Commodification of seed is commodification of life!

Following are some points elaborated to highlight why Sojhla for Social Change, Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), Roots for Equity and other people’s and civil society organizations have been opposing in general the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Act (TRIPs) and specifically the Pakistan Seed (Amended) Act 2015, and the Plant Breeders Rights Act 2016.

Farmers Collective Rights over Seed and Patenting of Life Forms

Seed, a genetic resource is a gift of nature and belongs to no one person or corporation but is owned collectively. But there is no doubt, that it was farmers who over many millennia experimented, re-generated, sorted, propagated and saved seeds. It was the collective knowledge of farmers and rural communities that allowed hundred of varieties of grains, vegetables, fruits, and flowers to be domesticated for human civilization. Farmers saved seed from one generation to the next, a process that went on for millions of years. There were thousands of varieties that were developed by farmers, but even though we farmers came out with new varieties we respected and followed the rules of nature, and shared the genetic resources openly with all. We, who have our history based in the Indus Valley Civilization, were the first to domesticate seed and through our knowledge and experience pass the best of genetic resources to our generations. Therefore, we farmers believe that first seed is free; it is a carrier of life and being a living thing it cannot be shackled, it cannot be owned by individuals or companies. If at all, it is the collective property of farmers; we have been its custodians, its guardians. We have respected our position of custodians and hence shared it fully and openly with all those who wish to use it as food, as a source of health, as a source medicine and of life.

Risks to Biodiversity:

It needs to be pointed out that with the advent of Green Revolution in the 1960s, seed has been forced out of our care and custody and turned into a commodity. With corporate control over seeds, with promotion of hybrid varieties and now genetically modified seeds we have lost much of the indigenous varieties in just 50 years; genetic diversity which was saved through hundreds of millennia were lost in less than half a century!

If we allow genetically modified seeds to take over our food and agriculture this will further the process of destroying biodiversity. Hybrid varieties and genetically modified seeds are based on monoculture and uniformity; they belie the intricate interwoven complexity of all forms of biodiversity with each other. Seed has been turned into a machine whose worth is weighed by productivity. But seed’s function is not only productivity: its function is in promoting various forms of life, of which human intelligence has as yet not grasped enough to turn it into a only an addition, subtraction formula. Plant life is very complex, it’s a food chain as well as shelter for millions of other life forms from birds to reptiles, to insects and millions and millions of microorganisms.  Uniformity in plant life negates diversity of life, and is fast leading to various forms of ecological disasters.

It needs to be added, that high yielding varieties are at least not an irreversible biological change in the plant, and over time genetic material can be retrieved from these seeds. But GM seeds are formed through a biological process that is irreversible. The GM seed can carry out reproduction with natural seeds; this means vast, irreversible contamination of our genetic resources. Once GM seeds have spread in nature, it’s like having a child with genetic abnormalities – one cannot take away the defect and it will keep on producing itself, contaminating and polluting natural varieties in the environment.

Corporate Control over Food and Agriculture

Agro-chemical corporations and seed corporations have worked hard to create a legal policy framework based on which seed can be called their property. This is because seed has an amazing characteristic – even only a single seed can generate hundreds of replicas and hence it is impossible to create control over seed – this is only possible through a legal system that allows these mega-corporations to control and own life. With control over seed by profit-driven corporations, a nation loses the ability to control its food production. The corporations can choose the price at which a seed would be sold. They can easily refrain from marketing seeds in any particular country; in these times of conflict and war – seed control is only one more added dependency. Today farmers cannot decide what they would like to grow; they have to depend on what seed the corporations provide in the market and have little choice but to grow that. Please note that today, nearly all vegetables in Pakistan are grown from corporate controlled seeds and each one of them is heavily doused with toxic pesticides. This is the food that all citizens are forced to consume –rich or poor.

It is important to note that a majority of seed is now in the hands of only four big corporations: Bayer, BASF, ChemChina and Corteva; in a handful of years, these four corporations have monopolized the seed sector. These four seed corporations control 60% percent of seed sales, globally. Just ten years ago, in 2009 there were at least 100 seed companies. Only in the last 2-3 years, there have been huge mergers such as Bayer purchasing Monsanto to be the largest seed company today. In 2017, DuPont had merged with Dow to form the US Corporation DowDupont; this year the company has separated its agricultural wing and named it Corteva agriscience. Continue reading

Feeding our “Swarming Millions”

Azra Talat Sayeed

The question of “feeding the stomach of our swarming millions’ keeps getting raised over and over again. It seems that there is no other way to reach this objective without accepting genetically modified seeds. But such a myopic viewpoint can only be termed nonsensical. Hunger can easily be assuqged without GMO crops, if only our government would not allow wheat to rot in godams, and instead give it to the people facing acute hunger and malnutrition. With surplus wheat production in the country, the constant harping on the hunger of the people seems a bit silly. GM seeds have been used in cotton which is not a food crop, but has ultimately resulted in further impoverishment of our masses, especially rural women. The cotton harvest has been destroyed systematically. From cotton to maize seems the next corporate driven agenda. We know very well, that GM maize is not meant as food but for ethanol.

In Pakistan, we have shifted to sugarcane from cotton: driven by the profit driven market for ethanol. Now, maize follows the same ‘logic’. Do we know that hybrid and GM variety of maize seeds, apart from producing ethanol are also being developed purely to produce fodder that would increase the quantity of animal manure which would then be used for producing bio-diesel? We are turning agriculture into an ‘assembly line production system’ to meet the unquenchable thirst of capitalism on oil? Can we forget the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq? Was it WMD or oil? So, it goes on – oil of course remains top priority – but so is ethanol. Do we recall the food crisis of 2008? It was driven by corn production in the US to produce ethanol. Fuel is life blood of capitalism – its industrialised economy cannot run without energy. And capitalism is blood thirsty: history has shown this over and over again. We would be fools to forget what the search for profits has resulted in the short history of capitalism.

Talking about alienating hunger through modern agriculture is really nothing new. I would like to quote a US senator. In 1957, Senator Hubert Humphrey said:

“I have heard . . . that people may become dependent on us for food. I know that was not supposed to be good news. To me, that was good news, because before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.” (Global Rift, Third World Comes of Age, L. S. Stavrianos, p 443)

And in wake of such an imperialist vision came the Green Revolution. Today Pakistan is totally dependent for its seed on mega agro-chemical corporations, with nearly all of them based in North America and Europe with China recently jumping in. So let us be clear: GM technology is furthering the imperialist agenda of controlling our agriculture sector, ensuring a trade deficit, keeping us drowned in debt. It is not about ‘feeding our swarming populations.”

It is unfortunate that these debates are no longer only about getting our people out of debt and hunger, this is now about saving our world; saving ourselves from global warming. I would remind us that the ‘swarming millions’ right now are suffering from unbearable heat across the nation. Our biodiversity across the globe is on the verge of collapse. Science is no more independent and corporations are coming up with short-term profit seeking destructive technologies.

Humans and all living things on this planet are suffering, which seems such a mild statement for the unbearable misery and impoverishment of the masses across the globe. We really need to read history, and learn and go forward. Colonization may be dead but it seems to have given birth to an unnatural monster: Neo-colonization which is now a grotesque reality. We need to stop saying, believing and fighting for what are colonial and Neo-colonial masters and mistresses dictate. If we really want a peaceful, prosperous world, free from hunger and poverty, there is no other way but to fight for our liberation.

Peoples’ Voice at UNEA-4

Statement of the Farmers Major Group at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly

Delivered by Mr. Wali Haider


Thank you chair.

Honorable excellences, distinguished delegates and colleagues:

I am Wali Haider from Roots for Equity, Pakistan and I’m speaking on behalf of the Farmers Major Group.

The dominant paradigm of unsustainable consumption and production continue to devastate and worsen the situation of the environment and the people along with promotion of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights which force GMOs and commodification of seeds and water. This crisis is further compounded by unabted land grabs by the transnational corporations. This is manifest in the crises in food, climate, environmental degradation, reduced biodiversity, depleted natural resources, and increasing violation of people’s rights and exacerbating inequality.

The industrial model of agricultural production and perverse subsidies in the agricultural sector are destroying the sources of livelihoods of small-scale food producers and their communities, resulting in hunger and forced migration.

To tackle the challenges we are facing in nourishing a growing global population and ensuring food sovereignty require innovations. People-centred and community solutions are innovations and appropriate technologies that protect the environment, promote sustainability, community ownership, social solidarity and mutuality and based on development justice. Innovative solutions that make a difference in people’s lives are often not technological but social innovations, linked with traditional practices and based on indigenous and local knowledge systems. Dimensions of environment, economy and society, the three pillars of sustainable development, are all taken into account in people’s solutions and community innovations towards sustainable consumption and production.

It is proven that in food production, agroecology as a practice based on constant innovation of farmers, a science and a social movement, is known to improve soils, protect health and the environment, improve livelihoods, and increase household income. Agroecology also harnesses traditional and indigenous knowledge systems supported by people’s science and builds community unity. Continue reading


March 01, 2019

Zubeida Mustafa

THERE is bad news and there is good news for our environmentalists, agriculturalists, healthcare givers and all those who care for the welfare of Pakistan. First, the bad news.

In January, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Cargill, the global food and agricultural producer with an annual revenue of $114.6 billion (2018), will be investing $200 million in Pakistan in the next two to five years. This announcement came after two top-ranking executives of Cargill met Prime Minister Imran Khan. It seemed innocuous, at least to people who know little about biotechnology giants.

One of them, Monsanto (now merged with Bayer), fathered the genetically modified organism (GMO) in 1983 which did terrible damage to numerous crops and farmers all over the world. As a result, we saw a spate of high-profile lawsuits in which the company admitted to having bribed officials abroad. At least 35 countries have now banned GMOs.

Obviously our political leadership is not well informed on such matters, nor is transparency its forte. Hence the Cargill heads’ meeting with the prime minister and their offer to create a huge number of jobs in Pakistan raised no scepticism in government circles.

Our experience with GM cotton has been disastrous.

But mercifully the Ministry of National Food Security & Research still has men of integrity and knowledge at its helm. It appears they have resisted this move. That has now prompted the American Business Council of Pakistan (representing 64 companies), a leading foreign investors’ group, to seek the prime minister’s help “to allow commercial cultivation of GM maize”. These American companies want the “obstacles” removed that are preventing them from implementing their controversial plans.

The good news is that the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek has issued a press release titled ‘Peasants Declare “NO TO GM MAIZE!”’ The party has categorically supported the ministry’s refusal to grant approval to genetically modified maize in Pakistan. The PKMT’s own position on GMOs and the seed companies has been clear for over a decade: they violate farmers’ collective rights to seed and will pauperise the small and landless tillers of the soil.

The Seed Association of Pakistan has also “sternly opposed” any commercialisation of GM maize in Pakistan. Civil society is also gearing up to resist any such move which will have a devastating effect on food security as well as agriculture. BT cotton should come as a lesson — that is, if we are willing to learn. Introducing BT cotton proved to be easy sailing in 2010. There was hardly any resistance from those in authority.

The Seed Law was changed by the National Assembly in 2015 to accommodate the seed multinationals. This was done at the behest of the US in spite of the fact that the 18th Amendment was in place and a courageous lawyer, Ahmad Rafay Alam, went to court on behalf of the Kissan Board to challenge its legality as well as the safety of BT cotton. The case has still to be decided.

BT cotton — Monsanto’s GM pet project — has proved to be a disaster for the country. Since its debut in Pakistan — by virtue of seeds smuggled from India in 2005 and later sanctioned by the government in 2010, cotton production has been falling. The figures cited have varied from source to source. It has of late been in the range of 10.5m and 11.5m bales. In 2004, cotton production stood at a record high of 14.1m bales (of 170kg each). Contrary to the government’s claim, the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association says the weight of the bales is now 160kg each.

For years cotton production has failed to meet the target set by the government. This has adversely affected the national economy as cotton is the major element in the textile sector, the mainstay of Pakistan’s exports. BT cotton has also introduced new bugs in the cotton fields requiring greater use of pesticides, produced as can be expected by the biotech companies themselves. With Monsanto monopolising the seed market, nearly 88pc of the area under cotton cultivation is BT. The yield per acre has also fallen. All this adds to the cost of the inputs, causing farmers to switch to other crops.

It is horrifying to think of what the impact would be if maize, which is a thriving crop at present, is handed over to producers of GM maize. Has GM maize been thoroughly tested in our soil and climatic conditions? Without extensive research we cannot assess its impact on human health. We cannot afford to risk a rise in the prevalence of deadly diseases; the pesticide Roundup, which is required to be used, has been declared carcinogenic by WHO. This should be reason enough for the government to resist pressures from the biotech multinationals which are out to destroy our economy.

Let us learn from our own sordid experience of GMO cotton. Let sanity prevail. Besides, we cannot allow our peasantry to be destroyed. It is the backbone of our agriculture.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2019


Petitioner’s arguments concluded in Farmer’s Rights case

Press Release

Lahore, 21 February 2019: A Full Bench of the Lahore High Court heard arguments by Petitioners challenging the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 and the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016.

Advocate Sheraz Zaka, appearing on behalf of the NGO One-World, submitted that these laws were passed at the behest of multinational seed and GMO companies and were against the interests of farmers in Pakistan. He pointed out how these law prohibit the storage and sharing of seeds, which has been a fundamental feature of agriculture since the dawn of civilization.  The new laws would require farmers and seed companies to register new verities with the Intellectual Property Organization in Islamabad.

Advocate Ahmad Rafay Alam appearing for NGO Sojhla for Social Change argued the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016 could not have been passed by Parliament as it was a provincial subject. He pointed out the province of Punjab had taken measures to draft the Punjab Seed (Amendment) Bill and Punjab Farmer’s Rights Bill, and that the laws passed by Parliament usurped the powers of the provinces.  The laws passed by Parliament, it was submitted, failed to recognize Pakistan’s international obligations to protect Farmers’ Rights and also usurped provincial jurisdiction.  The petition filed by Sojhla for Social Change is supported by the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek.

A representative appearing on behalf of the Federation of Pakistan submitted the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 and Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016 were passed keeping in view advancements in technology and the needs of seed dealers.

After hearing arguments, the Full Bench adjourned the hearing of the matter to 26 February 2019 for arguments by the Federation of Pakistan.

Minister Steps In To Scrap Moot Called To Green-Signal Gm Corn In Haste

Munawar Hasan

January 29, 2019


LAHORE: A high-level meeting that was slated to green-signal the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) corn in the country today (Tuesday) was ploughed down for now by the food minister himself at the eleventh hour in a rather dramatic way, The News has learnt

Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) had called a moot of Variety Evaluation Committee (VAC) for granting approval to commercial farming of genetically modified corn varieties, developed by multinational seed companies today (Tuesday) ‘hastily’.

A scene was created when Federal Minister for National Food Security Sahibzada Mehboob

Sultan abruptly intervened and asked for the cancellation of meeting that was convened by Dr Yusuf Zafar, chairman PARC.

Many participants were on their way to federal capital or had already reached there for attending the meeting, when they were informed via phone calls that the moot has been postponed until further notice.

Several key PARC officials were also not aware of the cancellation until late Monday evening, when they were contacted by The News.

Even, an official confirmed to The News the meeting was on after reconfirming it.

However, upon insisting that the meeting had been cancelled, the official again checked with the PARC high-ups and only then he affirmed the postponement of the VAC meeting.

The official however asserted that meeting was cancelled on the request of Faisalabad Agriculture University as its team was yet not ready to show up for the moot. There is no political or any other reason of shelving the meeting, he observed.

Certain stakeholders in seed business strongly opposed the introduction of genetically modified corn’s commercial cultivation being an edible crop.

“It is in the best interests of consumers and farmers that the country continued with the hybrid corn, which is abundantly being produced in the country as per requirements,” they said.

Moreover, they added that the investment in local hybrids developed by seed industry also required prioritising hybrids of maize.

The stakeholders said the introduction of genetically modified crops would not only increase the cost of farming for farmers due to high royalty fees, but would also lead to contamination of local germplasm, particularly in maize, which is a wind pollinated crop.

“This will also have severe adverse effect on the investment in locally developed hybrid varieties and discourage local production and research and development in seed business,” they warned.

On the other hand, the exports of maize-based value-added products from Pakistan could only be continued on sustained basis if the local growers stick with hybrid technology and refrain from allowing genetically modified corn seeds, sources said.

Most importantly, they added that it would lead to loss of export business as several countries/regions which import the value-added products based on maize and edible crops from Pakistan are anti-genetically modified crops such as European Union, Africa, Turkey, and Russia.

“Pakistan will not be able to export its products to these regions and countries, thus severely hampering exports,” they said.

More significantly, they said Pakistan’s per hectare production of corn was already showing upward trend and with five tons per hectare output of corn hybrids, Pakistan was already ahead of several countries that allowed genetically modified corn.

“We are sufficiently meeting our needs of corn through local production and there is no need to experiment with genetically modified organisms, which have several proven issues,” sources said.

genetically modified corn


October 8, 2018 / Published at The Guardian

by Carey Gillam and Sam Levin

Dean Brooks grasped on to the shopping cart, suddenly unable to stand or breathe. Later, at a California emergency room, a nurse with teary eyes delivered the news, telling his wife, Deborah, to hold out hope for a miracle. It was December 2015 when they learned that a blood cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) was rapidly attacking the man’s body and immune system.

By July 2016, Dean was dead. Deborah gets emotional recounting the gruesome final chapter of the love of her life. But in recent months, she has had reason to be hopeful again.

In an historic verdict in August, a jury ruled that Monsanto had caused a man’s terminal cancer and ordered the agrochemical corporation to pay $289m in damages. The extraordinary decision, exposing the potential hazards of the world’s most widely used herbicide, has paved the way for thousands of other cancer patients and families to seek justice and compensation in court.

“It’s like a serial killer, but it’s a product,” said Brooks, 57, who has a pending case against Monsanto, alleging that her husband’s use of the company’s popular weedkiller at their home led to his fatal disease. “It’s unconscionable … I don’t see how they can win. The world is against them.”

Brooks said she cried when she learned that a jury had ruled in favor of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the terminally ill former school groundskeeper who became the first person to take Monsanto to trial over Roundup. The verdict stated that Monsanto “acted with malice”, knew or should have known its chemical was dangerous, and failed to warn consumers about the risks.

Monsanto has filed an appeal, and a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in San Francisco. The stakes are high for Monsanto and Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant that acquired the company earlier this year. Energized by the Johnson win, a snowballing series of courtroom challenges are now threatening the legacy and finances of the corporations – and the future of a chemical that is ubiquitous around the globe.

The fight against 8,000 plaintiffs

Monsanto has argued that “junk science” led to the jury’s ruling on the chemical called glyphosate, which the company brought to market in 1974. Sold under numerous brands, including Roundup and Ranger Pro, the herbicide is now worth billions of dollars in revenues and is registered in 130 countries, with approvals for use on more than 100 crops.

The Johnson v Monsanto trial was groundbreaking before it even began, because a judge allowed the plaintiff’s attorneys to present research and expert testimony on glyphosate and health risks – scientific evidence that the jury ultimately found credible and compelling.

Johnson, who is not expected to survive for more than two years, said he had prolonged exposures to glyphosate while applying the herbicide to school properties, at least twice accidentally getting large amounts of the chemical on his skin. Because Monsanto has insisted that the product is safe and has no cancer warnings on its labels, Johnson said he did not know about the risks until it was too late.

His award of $289m, which included $250m in punitive damages, is a game-changer for the 46-year-old, who will leave behind a wife and three children. But Monsanto is fighting to keep it from him.

“It’s a big red flag for the company,” said Jean M Eggen, professor emerita at Widener University Delaware Law School, adding of the verdict: “It brings more people out who might not otherwise sue.”

Roughly 8,700 plaintiffs have made similar cases in state courts across the country, alleging that exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides led to various types of cancer. The impact could be huge if Monsanto continues to fight and lose in jury trials, and an accumulation of wins could force the company to consider settling with plaintiffs.

“It could become very costly,” said Eggen, comparing the fight to that of the tobacco industry, which aggressively fought cases in court but eventually decided settlements were the best option. “It’s really a business decision.”

Monsanto may ultimately consider changing the labels to warn consumers about cancer risks and work to settle with consumers who have had high exposures, said Lars Noah, University of Florida law professor: “It’s sort of a wake-up call that their strategy was unrealistic.”

Of the thousands of cases, there are more than 10 trials on track to start in 2019 and 2020, with court battles ramping up in California, Montana, Delaware, Kansas City and St Louis (where Monsanto is headquartered). Farmers, gardeners, government employees, landscapers and a wide range of others have alleged that Monsanto’s products sickened them or killed their loved ones.

“This is a tremendous number of trials for one year and will allow plaintiffs to get critical evidence in front of juries – evidence not seen before,” said the attorney Aimee Wagstaff.

The first plaintiffs who may have an opportunity to face Monsanto in a courtroom are Alberta and Alva Pilliod, a California couple. Alberta, 74, has brain cancer while her husband, 76, suffers from a bone cancer that he said has invaded his pelvis and spine – both forms of NHL.

Given their age and cancer diagnoses, their lawyers have argued they have a right to a speedy trial. Monsanto, however, has opposed the request, and a hearing on the matter is set for Tuesday.

The couple, who have two children and four grandchildren, used Roundup from the 1970s until a few years ago – around their yard and on multiple properties they purchased and renovated. The couple said they chose the herbicide because they believed it wouldn’t be harmful to the deer, ducks and other animals that roamed their property. They were also sure it was safe for themselves.

“We are very angry. We hope to get justice,” Alberta told the Guardian, noting that they didn’t use protective gear when they sprayed and would not have used Roundup the way they did if they knew the risks. “If we had been given accurate information, if we had been warned, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Alva said the cancer had destroyed their lives: “It has been a miserable few years.”

Their lawyers hope to go to trial before it’s too late. Alberta’s doctors have said she has “substantially high risk” for recurrence, has “deep brain lesions” from the cancer – and is likely to die if she does relapse.

‘We are not going to be silent’

The Pilliods and other plaintiffs taking on the company have long argued that Monsanto led a “prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general public that Roundup was safe”.

Attorneys have cited internal Monsanto records that they say demonstrate how the company has manipulated and corrupted the scientific record with respect to the herbicide’s safety. The scrutiny has escalated in recent weeks.

On 26 September, the prominent scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology issued an “expression of concern”, saying that its published research finding glyphosate to be safe had not fully declared Monsanto’s involvement.

The high-profile correction came after litigation revealed that the company was involved in organizing and editing article drafts. Monsanto was linked to a scientific review that countered a crucial 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

More evidence could emerge at forthcoming trials about Monsanto’s questionable involvements in scientific papers, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

A Bayer spokesman, Utz Klages, said in an email that the number of cases filed was “not indicative of the merits of the litigation”. He called glyphosate a “breakthrough for modern agriculture” and “cost-effective tool that can be used safely to control a wide range of weeds”.

Regulatory reviews and scientific studies have demonstrated that glyphosate is safe and not a cause of NHL, he said, adding: “The Johnson verdict is not final and concerns a single, specific case.”

John Barton, a California farmer who used Roundup for decades and was diagnosed with NHL in 2015, said he was eager to go to trial, especially since Monsanto and Bayer were still telling the public that glyphosate was safe.

“Monsanto needs to realize that we are not going to be silent any more,” said Barton, a third-generation farmer, who is part of a California lawsuit filed by the Baum Hedlund firm, which represented Johnson. “We are not going to roll over and play dead … People should be warned that this stuff is everywhere and we should be careful of this product.”

Barton, 69, said he also feared that his three sons could get sick due to their Roundup exposure.

“My dad exposed me to this. He never would’ve done that if he knew it was dangerous,” he added. “I have this guilt that I may have endangered my own sons.”

Deborah Brooks described NHL as “torture”, recounting her husband lying on towels on the floor trying to stop endless nosebleeds and the constant illnesses that plagued him while his immune system suffered.

“Nobody should have to go through that. It takes life in such a terrible way,” said Brooks, whose husband was 72 years old when he died. “I’m fighting for the honor of my husband and all the others that have come before and will come after … My heart goes out to those victims who don’t know they’re victims.”

Bayer declined to comment about the Brooks or Barton cases. A spokeswoman, Charla Lord, said in an email that because the Pilliods are both in remission and there was “no indication of any imminent cancer recurrence”, the company is arguing that an early trial date was not warranted.

Legal experts said it was possible the Johnson appeal could lead to a reduced monetary award. The courts could also find that there was insufficient evidence to prove that glyphosate causes cancer or that attorneys failed to demonstrate that the herbicide caused Johnson’s cancer.

Those outcomes could be devastating for Johnson and a setback for those fighting glyphosate. But cancer patients and families across the country will be able to push forward regardless of what happens in San Francisco, said David Levine, a University of California Hastings law professor.

“Even if Monsanto gets a complete victory here, it’s not going to stop other plaintiffs.”



Know your rights: ‘Government not showing efficiency in solving public issues’

Published: November 28, 2016

KARACHI: The government is not inefficient but they do not show their efficiency in matters related to public interest, said Azra Talat Sayeed, who is an activist and the executive director of Roots for Equity.

She was addressing the audience at a  discussion on ‘Food Justice and Farmers’ Rights’ held at The Second Floor on Sunday. Sayeed works for an organisation that fights for the rights of small and landless farmers, especially female farmers. The discussion focused on the increasing issue of agricultural change ever since the passing of the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 and Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill, 2016.

The majority of parliamentarians are landlords and the poor farmers are their slaves, Sayeed claimed, while accusing them of not standing up for the rights of these farmers. Recalling her first trip to a village when she got to hear stories of farmers and their families living there, Sayeed said it was difficult for her to believe that even though the farmers worked for 12 to 18 hours a day they still owed millions of rupees in loans.

“We have started looking for organic seeds, not scientifically grown ones,” said Sayeed, while referring to genetically modified (GM) seeds being replaced with organic seeds. It is hard to find even five varieties of wheat seeds in Pakistan, she added. Speaking about the issues that the farmers are facing since the bills have been passed, Sayeed said promoting GM seeds is the capitalist and corporate interest of the landlords.

Yasir Husain, who is an urban farmer and co-founder of Organic City, said he feels that Karachi is isolated from the rest of the country, with its people being indifferent to nature. He added that Karachiites have a concrete life and they live in that same bubble.

Talking about how people can be closer to nature, Husain said that every child should know how to grow plants. “Students should be taught in schools about kitchen gardening,” he said, adding that it is not necessary for one to have a garden to grow plants. Rooftops and galleries can also be used for planting purposes, he said.

“Seeds have changed and so has the variety,” said sociologist and Karti Dharti founder Nosheen Ali, while launching a report titled ‘Seed Inc: Food Sovereignty, Farmers’ Rights and New Legal Regimes in Pakistan’. While speaking about her time living abroad, Ali said she found the taste and colours of various fruits to be different compared to fruits here. With the ongoing hunger crisis that the world is facing and increasing use of GM seeds, we will face drastic changes, Ali said, adding that the government will never stand up for farmers’ rights.

“It is a common misunderstanding in the country that farmers are an impediment to the growth of the country because they are illiterate and the country can only grow economically with GM seeds,” she said, adding that such modified seeds will bring more misery in the farmers’ lives.

Ali was accompanied by Amna Tanweer Yazdani as the moderator of the session, who is an anthropologist and senior social scientist at Aga Khan University.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2016.


Authorities get another chance to respond to plea against amended seed act

Justice Sayyed Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi of Lahore High Court on Friday expressed serious concerns over the failure of the authorities concerned to submit a reply on a petition challenging the Pakistan (Amended) Seed Act 2015.

The judge remarked, “It is shocking that local farmers’ future has been put in jeopardy,” adding that the amended law could endanger national food security by making the country dependant on multinationals for genetically-modified seeds.

The judge warned that the plant breeder’s rights registry would be restrained from operating if a response was not submitted in the matter by June 22.

At an earlier hearing, the court had directed the Punjab government to produce the resolution passed by the provincial assembly calling upon the Centre to pass a plant breeders’ rights bill. Notices were issued to the federal government in which it was asked to file para-wise comments to the petition filed by Human Voice, an non-government organisation, challenging the Pakistan Amended Seed Act, 2015 for being in violation of farmers’ fundamental rights and passed at the behest of US-based multinational seed manufacturing companies.

The orders were not complied with as neither the copy of the resolution nor parawise comments were submitted till Friday.

Petitioner’s counsel Sheraz Zaka had submitted that the impugned seed act was passed without the approval of the cabinet, and under article 144 of the Constitution the amendment made in seed act could not have been passed by the federal legislature as it is a provincial subject. He argued that the impugned act would deprive farmers of their traditional farming practices and was meant to accommodate the demands of multinational corporations which were harmful for the environment, anti-competitive, and a threat for the national economy.

Advocate Zaka contended that the Parliament could not pass a bill of such a nature in the absence of resolutions passed by provincial legislatures. He submitted that the scope of his petition was wide and required the attention of the court, keeping into consideration the fact that the federal government had ratified the convention on biological diversity but still not taken any measures to protect traditional breeding practices.

During earlier hearings, Zaka had said that under the impugned law, farmers would be fined and imprisoned for preserving, selling and exchanging seeds, a centuries-old tradition. He said that it would adversely affect the agriculture sector of the country.

Zaka emphasised that the impugned law had made it mandatory for farmers to buy seeds from a licensed company or its agent and they had to do so every time they cultivate a new crop. He stated that this restriction would make farmers dependent on companies.

He said that it would be a huge injustice towards the millions of small and landless farmers whose food insecurity would be aggravated. He submitted that conditions required under the impugned Act would lead to increase in prices of agricultural products and a food security threat in future was likely to happen.

The counsel said that the experience of growing genetically modified (GM) crops, like Bt cotton, had been disastrous in the country but the government still intended to promote GM crops through the law. He added that many European countries had already banned genetically modified crops because of their adverse impact on environment and Pakistan should follow suit.

Zaka requested the court to set aside the amended Seed Act for being unconstitutional.

Link: https://dailytimes.com.pk/251095/authorities-get-another-chance-to-respond-to-plea-against-amended-seed-act/