Monsanto has been conducting field trials of drought tolerant maize in South Africa since 2007, and has recently applied to have these trials extended. Monsanto has presented the trials as forming part of the much larger Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Initiative, of which the African Centre for Biosafety has already criticised in a previous publication.
Having viewed, the albeit exremely limited ‘non-confidential-business-information’ version, of Monsanto’s appeal document, the ACB feels it pertinent to bring several glaring concerns of ours to the public attention. Drought tolerance in plants is an incredibly complex characteristic, involving up to 60 seperate genes (remember the majority of commercially grown GM crops contain just 1 or 2 artificially inserted genes). Monsanto even admits in its application that under conditions of extreme drought, the apocalyptic visions of which the biotech industry frequently uses to justify its activities, MON 87460’s yield ‘can be reduced to zero’.
Bearing this in mind, and taking into consideration the very real risks we have identified from Monsantos application, including horizontal gene transfer, the use of anti-biotic resistance marker genes and the danger of cross pollination with conventional vareties, we fail to see how the continuation of these trials can be justified. Yet again, Monsanto has drawn on the notoriously pro-GM European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to support its application, and even this opinion has been brazenly misinterpreted.
If we are able to garner this much information against Monsanto’s application from the limited data they were prepared to submit, one can only speculate as to the full extent of the risks the continuation of these trials would involve. We implore the Executive Council: GMO Act to refrain from granting the continuation of these trials, and ask them to consider the wealth of studies conducted with public funds, in the pubic eye, that point to the immense benefits that can be gained from traditional breeding methods and the need to approach food security in a holistic manner.