CAFOs, GMOs And The Voiceless: Protecting Human And Animal Life In Pakistan

CAFOs, GMOs And The Voiceless: Protecting Human And Animal Life In Pakistan
On 20 October 2022, Pakistan’s plant protection department under the leadership of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research halted the import of 600,000 tons of genetically modified soybeans at Port Qasim, Karachi.

GMO soybeans can cause cancer and under the Cartagena protocol, a country has a right to refuse the import of genetically modified organisms intended to be used for food or feed. However, the All-Pakistan Solvent Extractors’ Association (APSEA) has been importing GMO soybeans for the last five years and this shortage has created a daily national loss of 2 to 3 million rupees. It is predicted that prices of eggs have/will soar from PKR 240 to 290 per dozen. Similarly, prices of chicken have/will soar from PKR 300 to 1,000 per kilogram.

The meat industry supplies 50% of the country's meat demands. While the food ministry deliberates, the poultry industry estimates around 30,000 poultry farms face closure. The meat industry employs over 1.5 million people, and a major industry shutdown has severe impacts on economic security and workers’ rights.

Unfortunately, only human rights are on the headlines, with no headlines focusing on animal rights. Pakistan is forgetting that it has just suffered one of its worst floods in history, which at one point drowned 1/3rd of the country, killed over 1,700, displaced 33 million humans, and killed 1.16 million livestock animals. The WWF Living Planet report, released in October 2022 states globally we have lost over 70% of wildlife in the last 50 years. Any further loss of biodiversity, wildlife, and hence animal life would accelerate climate change and we would again be facing another major natural disaster.

Since 2018, the US alone has faced over 25 floods. There is an ongoing five-year drought in Kenya that has caused intense famine, 33 of 36 states in Nigeria are currently flooded, the 2020 Australian-New Zealand bush fires killed over 3 billion animals, the 2020 Amazon fires killed another 17 million animals and destroyed 30% of its tropical wetlands. Globally, 150 billion animals are slaughtered every year and to slaughter them, most often farming industries employ the usage of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). China, for example, has installed a 26-story apartment-styled CAFO in Ezhou city, the world’s biggest CAFO ever, which can hold 650,000 animals at a single time and slaughter 1.2 million pigs annually.

A CAFO annually produces on average urine and feces equivalent to the quantity produced by 16,000 humans, greenhouse gases that exacerbate climate change, and emits over 168 gases out of which many are hazardous inter alia ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane. The air inside CAFOs is filled with disease-carrying bacteria and pathogens, and the animal carcasses inside attract rats and other vermin infestation. All these environmental hazards also passively impact the poor neighborhood communities adjacent to CAFOs.

Given all this, under Pakistan law, CAFOs can be in violation of the right to life established under Article 9 of our constitution and Ms. Shehla Zia v. WAPDA, PLD 1994 SC 693 – and thus they could be sued for environmental damage and relocation costs.

With the soybean shortage coupled with the ongoing floods, Pakistan has started to face a food shortage. And CAFOs, which are an economic wonder for corporations, are unfortunately where Pakistan is headed.

Altamush Saeed is an LLM candidate in Environmental and Animal Law at the Lewis and Clark Law School