In this publication, we provide a comprehensive update of the situation with GMOs in SA. Since our last South African update on genetically modified crops, and the transnational companies that control the technology published in 2008, GMOs have become even more entrenched in the country’s agricultural landscape. Over three quarters of South Africa’s maize is now GM, Roundup Ready soybean cultivation has increased nearly fourfold. If Pioneer Hi-Bred’s acquisition of Pannar seed is accepted, we are about to relinquish all control over our seed system to two US multinational corporations. During 2010 and 2011, nearly 6 million tons of GM maize was exported to destinations in Africa and Mexico, the centre of origin of maize.
Following the promulgation of the Genetically Modified Organisms Act in 1997, numerous Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) applications have been approved in SA. As of 2007, GMOs commercially available in South Africa included insect resistant maize and cotton, herbicide tolerant cotton, maize and soybean, and herbicide tolerant and insect resistant cotton and maize, making up 62% of the total maize crop, 80% of the total soybean crop and 90% of the total cotton crop in South Africa comprised of GMOs.
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) concurs with the emerging groundswell of civil society and scientific opinion that GMOs pose a grave threat to human health, the environment and the establishment of an equitable global food system.
Public interest groups such as the ACB have, over many years, attempted to engage with the government on the regulation of GMOs in South Africa, and to participate in GMO permitting processes. While a valuable contribution to the biosafety debate has been made, these efforts have often been frustrated by a lack of transparency in the decision-making process, and in particular the lack of information made available to the public. The GMO Registrar has consistently insisted on interested and
Recently, the South African press reported on the possible bankruptcy faced by maize farmers. The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released a new report titled “The dirty politics of the global grain trade – GM maize farmers face ruin in SA” which provides an analysis of why South Africa’s record 13 million ton harvest of maize, at least half of which is GM, has threatened financial ruin for up to 30% of its maize farmers. The paper addresses the following issues: the political economy of maize in South Africa; new GM markets for South Africa; the real beneficiaries of the maize mountains; and regulatory issues, including the extent to which South Africa’s GMO permit system contributes towards speculation in the GM maize trade and the price of food. The paper can be found on the website of the ACB at www.acbio.org.za
South Africa’s maize farmers recorded a bumper harvest in 2010, yet now they face ruin. The price of maize has fallen precipitously in the last 12 months owing to a crisis of over-production of both GM and non-GM maize. A mass exodus from the maize sector is anticipated, with as many as 30% of farmers
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has done considerable work with regard to the need for environmental impact assessments of GMOs and the limitations of current legislation. This work can be found on the ACB‘s website, www.biosafetyafrica.org.za
We have perused the new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations, regulating procedures and criteria for conducting EIAs as set out in chapter 5 of the National Environmental Management Act no 107 of 1998 (NEMA), which came into effect on 2 August 2010.i
These have been changed in a number of respects, but the situation in respect of GMOs remain unchanged. The listing of GMOs as a schedule 1 activity under the National Environmental Management and Biodiversity Act, 2004 (NEMBA) is still the same, meaning that only a basic assessment needs to be conducted when GMOs are released into the environment.ii However, the new section 78 of NEMBA, amended in 2009, does give the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs the authority to call for an EIA when there is reason to believe that the release may pose a threat to any indigenous species or the environment. To date, the Minister has not used her Authority to do so.
In this briefing, we present an overview of a new organisation called Biosafety South Africa. Biosafety South Africa was launched early this year, receives funding from the South African government through the Department of Science and Technology. Biosafety South Africa has no legislative mandate to influence GMO decision making but appears set to carve its niche in the arena of assisting GMO permit applicants in the preparation of their applications.
The ACB has come to the following conclusions about Syngenta’s application:
In terms of the molecular characterisation of the event:
- It indicates several irregularities including open reading frames and a truncated constructs which could give rise to unintended gene effects
- The transfer of the herbicide-tolerant trait to weeds could result in increased herbicide application. The potential for economically important weeds developing herbicide tolerance is a cause for concern
- Glyphosate use has resulted in several unwanted effects on aquatic systems and terrestrial organisms and ecosystems
- The US experience of Roundup Ready field trials has shown a marked increase in herbicide usage, particularly glyphosate
- In the Argentinean experience, the large scale uptake of Roundup Ready Soya has had devastating impacts on food security and the environment
Furthermore, it is our contention that:
- Reliance on the assessments of EFSA is fraught with problems given the criticisms and contradictions inherent within EFSA especially in respect of its methodologies and perceived pro-industry stance, which it is itself grappling with
- The claims of the increased yield performance of GM crops are unsubstantiated
- GMO plantings contribute to increased rather than reduced pesticide use
- It is disingenuous to suggest that planting of GM crops will contribute to
Despite the best part of a decade of research and field trials, genetically modified sugar cane in South Africa remains a long way from commercial cultivation. Numerous research projects are currently under way at a number of publicly and privately funded research bodies, most of which are concentrating on increased sucrose and biomass content. Late last year the Department of Science and Technology announced the creation of a strategic sugar research platform to be overseen by the PlantBio Trust, a branch of the Department of Trade and Industry that focuses on plant biotechnology.
Internationally, both Brazil and Australia lead the way in GM sugar cane research, and both countries believe they can bring it to market commercially within the next 5 years. Under the guise of south ? south co-operation, Brazil has been particularly active in extending its influence as the world’s largest sugarcane producer into the African continent. Huge sugarcane for ethanol investment deals have been signed with Mozambique, while a steady succession of research partnerships have been undertaken between Brazilian and South African institutions.
The biotech industry, either through direct research and acquisitions or indirectly via a number of lobby groups, has been very active in both GM