1.Punjab refuses to budge in dispute with Monsanto
2.Top man quits over bid to seek clandestine nod for Monsanto GM corn
3.Govt to introduce labelling of GM food

NOTE: The second and third items are from a few months ago and 2011 respectively, but help add context on the controversy embroiling Monsanto in Pakistan that is the focus of the first item.

The first item seems to be slanted against critics of Bt cotton. For instance, it says, "Another official hinted that Pakistan may consider following European Union standards for labelling genetically modified food, though it is unclear how the official thinks this might affect cotton seeds, which are not commonly used in food production." But according to ISAAA, while around 33% of Pakistan's neighbour India's Bt cotton produce ends up as fibre in the textile sector, the remaining 67% is consumed directly as food or feed.
1.Punjab refuses to budge in dispute with Monsanto
Zafar Bhutta
The Express Tribune, October 17 2012

The source of the disagreement appears to be Monsanto's insistence that it be compensated if farmers violate its intellectual property rights by sharing seeds amongst themselves۔ (DESIGN: ESSA MALIK)


Punjab and Monsanto have reached a 'dead end' in their fight over intellectual property rights' enforcement: it appears that the Punjab government wants access to Monsanto's BT cotton seeds, but does not want to pay for them after the first year.

Sources told The Express Tribune that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had informed the federal government that Lahore had said no to Monsanto's plan for intellectual property rights protection, first proposed by the company in 2010. "After that [refusal], no progress has been made between the Punjab government and the US-based firm Monsanto," said one source, quoting Punjab government officials.

The breakdown in talks was confirmed at a subcommittee hearing of the Senate textile industry on Monday. The federal government, meanwhile, is trying to revive talks between the provincial government and the American firm. The Senate textile committee is in favour of Monsanto marketing its genetically modified BT cotton seeds in Punjab, which would help the province boost its cotton production. That rise in cotton production, in turn, may lower prices which would help the textile industry.

The source of the disagreement appears to be Monsanto's insistence that it be compensated if farmers violate its intellectual property rights by sharing seeds amongst themselves, rather than buying them from authorised distributors. Pakistan's intellectual property rights currently do not cover genetically modified seeds, which has already made Monsanto skittish about setting up a distribution network in the country.

Many countries already have such laws, but the bill that would rectify this gap in Pakistani law, the Seed Amendment Bill, has been under consideration in Parliament since 2006 and has not been passed by either house of the federal legislature. In the absence of such a law, Monsanto is requesting a fine of between $12 and $15 per acre of every farm found to be using unauthorised seeds.

The Punjab government has two major problems with Monsanto's proposals: firstly, that the US company demands that the fine be paid by the provincial government, and secondly, that Monsanto's request amounts to a ban on sharing Monsanto's seeds among farmers, which is the traditional way farmers get seeds in Pakistan.

"Farmers provide up to 75% of the seeds used in sowing crops to each other," said one government official sympathetic to the Punjab government's position.

The government estimates that the demand for cotton seeds alone in Pakistan is about 40,000 tons per year. There are about 770 companies in Pakistan licensed to market seeds, but all of them combined account for less than 30% of the total market share. Monsanto plans on tapping some of these local firms as distributors, offering them a share of its profit margins.

The Punjab government wants to make a one-time payment to Monsanto for the right to permanently market its seeds and then let farmers simply share the seeds amongst themselves, a position the US firm rejects. However, a bill that would sanctify farmers' right to share seeds – the Plant Breeders' Rights Bill – has been languishing in Parliament for years, suggesting while Pakistani law is not robust in its protection of intellectual property rights, that there is little political support for codifying a violation of intellectual property rights into law either.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government has begun a "sour grapes" argument: insisting that Monsanto's BT cotton seeds would not protect the crop from the kinds of pests most prevalent in Pakistan, and may even be dangerous for consumers.

"The Red Cotton Bug, Mealybug, and Dusky Cotton Bug are the emerging threats to the cotton crop, and there is no variety of BT cotton that would resist those diseases," said one official. Monsanto's "Bollguard" variety of BT cotton seeds protects primarily against bollworms, the most commonly prevalent pest that afflicts cotton production in the country.

Another official hinted that Pakistan may consider following European Union standards for labelling genetically modified food, though it is unclear how the official thinks this might affect cotton seeds, which are not commonly used in food production.
2.Top man quits over bid to seek clandestine nod for GM corn seed
Munawar Hasan
The News, June 10 2011

LAHORE: The attempt of getting clandestine approval of genetically modified (GM) seeds in violation of the procedure invited fierce resistance from various quarters, forcing head of the official committee to tender his resignation on Thursday.

According to sources in the federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, all discussions, meetings, and proceedings for introducing the genetically modified seeds of corn/maize, which is also a food crop, on mass level are going on between the government and representative of influential seed companies secretively. Sources claimed that other stakeholders such as farmers’ representative bodies, consumer, independent agriculture experts and environmentalists have not been taken into confidence at any level whatsoever.

"It's a deliberate attempt to keep these discussions and proceedings in low profile in order to avoid any outcry by the farmers and conscious citizens," sources claimed. They added that instead of holding scientific debate on this important issue, involving large-scale cultivation of genetically modified corn, which could potentially pose serious threat to local varieties due to cross pollination besides other risks associated with the genetically modified organisms.

"Besides holding pragmatic scientific debate, there should be extensive public debate on this important issue as it deals with what we eventually eat," said various stakeholders. It also assumes immense importance because many countries, including India, Australia, UK and other several European countries, have not allowed cultivation of the genetically modified corn, despite successive attempts made by multinational companies in recent years. In India, certain states even did not allow trial of the genetically modified corn in its territory.

Events related to a high-profile committee, established by the Ministry of Environment for commercialisation of the genetically modified corn in Pakistan took an ugly turn when it was discovered that large-scale trials of genetically modified corn/maize have been conducted. Not only this, an attempt was also made to adopt the so-called findings of these trials, which was allegedly prepared by a multinational seed company itself.

Sources said 16-page report titled "TAC Sub-Committee Recommendations and Findings", a copy of which is available with The News, was prepared by the Monsanto Pakistan, and certain members of the committee tried to adopt it, instead of evaluating the findings themselves.

Sources said Dr Zafar Khalid, director, National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), who is also co-chair/member of the sub-committee, openly resisted intervention by Monsanto and objected credentials of its reports. Sources said he strongly conveyed that any such move would not be allowed to succeed, as it is in clear violation of the laid down procedure and had been done without adhering to full regulatory details, environmental concerns and due diligence.

Sources said that the Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad-led sub-committee first announced holding meeting of the committee to review a proposal regarding commercialisation of the genetically modified corn, but later cancelled it abruptly. Instead, an email was sent to the committee members with an attached file of Monsanto-engineering report, asking them to submit comments if any in a week.

Sources said Dr Zafar Khalid and others expressed serious reservations about cancellation of meeting and attempts to adopt findings of Monsanto. They asserted that it is responsibility of committee to itself review progress on trials of GM corn instead of vetting external findings.

Keeping in view this situation, sources said, Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad who is also Director General National Agriculture Research Council (NARC) tendered his resignation on Thursday morning.

According to his resignation note, copy of which is available with The News, he said TAC Sub-committee has been scandalized and an environment of prejudice has been created against the Committee. It is, therefore, not possible for him to carryout the work under the circumstances. Interestingly, he also proposed to reconstitute the committee.

Again there's a misstatement in the Technical Assistance committee's summary drafted by Monsanto for Dr. Iftikhar, sources alleged. Towards the end, the summary very cleverly states that Large Scale Field Trials were held in Autumn 2010. That’s factually wrong, sources claimed. Only regulatory trials were held and large scale trials approval was never given by National Bio-safety Committee/Ministry of Environment. "Two years mandatory regulatory trials are required before large scale trials of GM maize/corn can be conducted," sources said. So the company has very cleverly drafted this report and tried to hoodwink the government body.

Farmer bodies and environmentalists across the world especially in Pakistan have been raising alarm bells on the news of possible formal introduction of genetically modified seeds in Pakistan.

They said it could have been in our best interest if we had taken all the stakeholders in confidence to review all the pros and cons of formally introducing the GM seeds in Pakistan and formulate a strategy to safeguard the interest of farmers and not of multinational companies.

Ibrahim Mughal, Chairman Agri-Forum Pakistan, claimed biotech seed companies in Pakistan are continuously misleading the decision makers and farmers by claiming yield increase through Bt corn/maize in Pakistan. Further, Philippines example is being quoted which is in fact not very relevant to Pakistan due to sea change in weather pattern.

"Please note that in Pakistan, Temperate climatic condition prevails and the temperature rises above 40C and also can be less than 10 c during maize growing seasons. In tropical areas like Philippines, temperature is around 30C most of the year," he observed. "So we cannot compare yield of hybrid seed used in Tropical region with temperate regions," he observed.

Mughal added such influential biotech firms have developed special liaison with officials and found ways for getting approval of GM seeds, ignoring concerns of farmers and general public. He stressed the need to take appropriate measures for streamlining process of seed commercialization by including representatives of farmers.

About Monsanto's forefront role in official approval process, Mughal said, "It seems the valid concerns expressed about the GM crops have been sidelined under pressure from the seed companies. We can evaluate ourselves how transparent, legal and ethically biotech/GM corps approval system is in Pakistan,” he observed.

Dr Tariq Bucha, Chief Coordinator Farmers Associates of Pakistan (FAP) also expressed concern on procedure being followed for granting approval to GM corn. He said new technologies should be first scientifically explored and given approval to only acclimatized varieties of seeds.

Bucha was of the view that we should avoid such situation where Pakistani farmers would be completely left on the mercy of few multinationals for their seed requirements and this complete dependency on profit-hungry multinationals would lead to a new era of decay for Pakistani agriculture sector and poor farmers.

Dr Fauzia Tahir, President Pakistan Bio-Safety and Bio-Security Association (PBBSA) said standard procedure should be followed for exploring efficacy of GM crops. She added that open scientific and public debate should also be held on important topic of GM food crops as it has potential to directly affect every person. She agreed that precautionary measures for avoiding unwarranted cross pollination should be properly devised and strictly implemented if at all approval is granted to GM seeds. First do a proper risk-assessment of GM corn, she stressed.

When contacted, Dr Iftikhar Ahmad said it was not fair to criticize process of GM corn commercialization before its completion. He said how anyone claims that we are not adhering to full regulatory details as process is still continuing. He declined to comment further.

Dr Aslam Gill, senior official of Minfa, said he would not support any such move, if any. He was of the opinion that physical inspection of crop is a must to review various parameters. He underlined the need to properly follow laid down procedure for regularization of GM food crops in the country.

When contacted, Aamir M Mirza, Country Head Monsanto Pakistan did not respond to specific queries about his company’s attempt to get approval of GM corn despite successive attempts. He finally said that he could be able to respond to queries, including about report of company containing findings of GM corn, not before next week.
3.Govt to introduce labelling of GM food
Zafar Bhutta
The Express Tribune, June 20 2012

Labelling policies are based on the assumption that the industry is unable or unwilling to identify the risks inherent in their GMO products. (LAYOUT & DESIGN: SAMRA AAMIR FAIZAN DAWOOD)

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to introduce labelling of genetically modified (GM) food to protect consumers from malpractices of producers and suppliers of bio-technology products.

According to documents, the labelling of GM food will also give choice to the consumers whether to consume GM or non-GM food.

International rules for labelling of GM food vary considerably. Some countries are in the process of discussing legislation, some have mandatory laws in place for several years and others such as Canada have opted for a voluntary regime.

Australia has taken a leading role by implementing stringent, science-based regulations and is among the first countries in the world to introduce labelling laws which are not about safety but respect the rights of consumers to make informed purchasing choices.

Labelling policies were first introduced by the European Union (EU) in 1997, but since then many other countries including all developed nations have adopted some type of labelling policy for GM food.

Different options for GM food labelling are being considered by stakeholders in Pakistan, according to a concept paper relating to ‘Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Food Labelling.’

Commercial release of any GM material requires approval of the National Bio-safety Committee. The commercial release depends on environmental safety testing along with food safety studies.

“The genetically modified BT cotton has been commercially released in the country and some proper and standard labelling is required to protect the growers, who are interested in growing BT cotton or otherwise,” reveals the concept paper.

Labelling was also necessary to protect the consumers from malpractices of producers and suppliers as there were evidences of mixing GM seed with non-GM seed, it said.

In the concept paper, two options for labelling GM food have been discussed, whether it should be mandatory or voluntary. Mandatory labelling will impose excessive costs on the producers of GM food, which will threaten research and commercialisation of goods. In contrast, voluntary labelling will limit producer costs and will be commercially and socially optimal.

Labelling policies are based on the assumption that the industry is unable or unwilling to identify the risks inherent in their GMO products. Therefore, the government intervenes in the market with mandatory labelling policies to ensure consumer protection from potential health and safety risks associated with consumption of GM food.

“Mandatory labelling may be a clear threat to the continued development of bio-technology products and processes. Nevertheless, in the absence of industry action, the government may be pushed by consumers and lobby groups to impose mandatory labelling to ensure firms are held accountable for product-specific uncertainties,” concludes the concept paper.