With GMOs and Monsanto, the world’s biggest purveyor of toxic, death-dealing chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and seeds with drastically-altered DNA, there’s never a dull moment. Virtually every week, even daily, they make headlines somewhere in the world, not just in agriculture but in business, health, politics, local economics and public interest issues as well.

While their greatest success has been in their home-country the US, resistance there is stiffening thanks to greater awareness. So much so, a US investment company has asked Monsanto for a report “assessing the actual and potential financial risks posed to their shareholders by GMO operations.”

The demand was made much earlier, but Monsanto, with its considerable lobbying, financial support and powerful links in government and Congress, disregarded the request with the excuse that it “would be redundant and provide no meaningful additional information to shareowners.” The investment company disagreed, noting “corporate disclosure documents do not adequately inform shareholders, stock analysts or rating agencies of the numerous risks facing the company.”

Now, Harrington Investments Inc (HII), a 30-year-old registered investment advisory firm, has re-filed the shareholder resolution, publicly calling for Monsanto “to disclose the real financial risks to shareholders and other stakeholders for producing GMOs over the past two decades.” Harrington sought full information, “from the cost of anti-GMO labeling campaigns to the devastating fallout of crop contamination hitting farmers around the world.”

“Monsanto increasingly keeps stakeholders in the dark, about the true financial risks of GMOs,” said John Harrington, the President/CEO, revealingly, “Crop contamination is wreaking havoc on people’s livelihoods, and we’ve seen reports that GMO’s are in 75% of our food supply. The corporation spends an incredible amount of shareholder money to prevent American consumers from knowing the extent to which it controls our national food supply.”

“While more than half of the U.S. states are trying to prepare labeling laws, Monsanto is spending tens of millions of dollars in anti-labeling campaign efforts ….. The annual $6 million Monsanto spends lobbying is more than any other entity in the industry. Add to that the hundreds of millions spent in legal fees chasing after small farmers whose land is unwillingly contaminated with Monsanto products, and the millions farmers are spending to protect themselves, and you have a corporate empire financially committed to denying the reality of what’s happened to our food supply.”

Harrington pointed out that GMO products were currently banned or restricted in over 60 countries. “US wheat sales to Japan and Korea were recently rejected after a rogue Monsanto GMO was found growing among non-modified export crops in the US Northwest.”

“We have farmers heading to the Supreme Court taking on Monsanto’s bullying tactics,” added Harrington, “We have farmers who don’t even plant crops for fear of contamination; and we have farmers who are afraid that in the near future we won’t even have non-GMO seeds to plant.”

Shouldn’t Pakistan be having the same worries as 60 other countries? The issue is a more far-reaching one than merely investment bottom-lines, especially in South countries hounded by unnecessary and destructive technologies focused not on public benefit but on mass labour-reduction and monopoly-creation.

The government forgets that it is not the primary job of the state to blindly adopt foreign technology just because it is a technology, on the assumption that if it is foreign, it must be superior. The recent history of technology is replete with good developments as well as disastrous ones that have harmed people and health, the environment and entire economies.

In several decades of scientific agricultural research, our various institutions have tended to focus on what benefits large-scale agro-businesses, rather than hands-on smallholders who constitute the majority and who mainly provide for the domestic economy. As citizens, they too have rights.

Unlike elsewhere, there’s not a single institution devoting its exclusive attention to smallholder and chemical/GM-free organic farming which has become an urgency to restore soils and biodiversity destroyed by chemicals and other undesirable ‘industrial’ practices, a call that FAO/UN and other international organizations keep reiterating. The only ones promoting it are NGOs but their outreach is limited.

Meanwhile, South Asian neighbours have simultaneously advanced non-chemical, non-GMO organic research and practices and produced encyclopedias of knowledge reviving better and profitable alternatives.

What is of serious concern is that the 2006 agreement that National Institute for Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), Faisalabad had made, was originally with Delta Pineland Company (D&PL, USA) — the same company that tried to introduce the non-reproducing TERMINATOR seeds that led to worldwide uproar and its subsequent withdrawal.

Delta Pineland was soon after acquired by Monsanto in June 2007, something publicly known, but the NIBGE agreement process remained in the dark as the Director of NIBGE was replaced during that time. The copy of the agreement was nowhere to be found for years, and only now is available on the Internet. What is not clear is who exactly approved this agreement with Delta Pine Land and whether the implications of the new ownership were taken into account.

What however is known from documents that have emerged, is that the agreement was executed by transferring unapproved local cotton seed varieties. This showed severe disregard for regulatory requirements. Just as bad, no risk assessment or environmental impact assessment whatsoever was done by NIBGE while signing this agreement.

Now efforts are being made to get approval for more Bt cottonseed varieties at the federal level via the National Bio-safety Centre (NBC) and the Ministry of Food Security – although it has little do with food security.

Like the proverbial camel outside the tent inching inwards in cumulative steps before taking over the whole tent in a strategy that Monsanto applies the world over, the next step to be expected would be their seeking Bt Corn/maize approval by citing the Bt Cotton precedent!

Towards this end, local companies are pushing for Bt Cotton approval, while multinationals like Dupont Pioneer, Syngenta and Monsanto are building up towards Bt maize approval while sidetracking the Bt maize cross-pollination and crop contamination issues.

Although such approvals are now a provincial issue since the 18th amendment, Monsanto and their local partners are trying to bypass provincial government intervention as that would require separate approvals for each province, and Monsanto would rather avoid public debate on GM crops that would be bound to ensue. But they have shown remarkable ability in making governments pliable.

The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.