On 20 April, Business Day carried a public notice of Monsanto’s application to the South African GMO registrar for permission to import Smartstax maize, arguably the world’s most controversial and risky commercially grown GMO.

While the majority of commercially grown genetically engineered crops contain at most 3 foreign genes, Smartstax contains eight, 6 of which are for insect resistance and a further 2 for resistance to chemical herbicides. Smartstax was granted approval in the US and Canada on the basis that the parent GM maize lines that were cross bred to create it were previously classified as safe, meaning that Smartstax has not even been subject to proper risk assessment! Several prominent biosafety experts at the United Nations have already expressed their dismay at this assumption of safety, while the issue of stacked GMOs is set to be a major area of contention at the upcoming Convention on Biodiversity meeting in Japan later this year.

Having viewed Monsanto’s application (in accordance with our constitutional rights), the African Centre for Biosafety has written to the GMO registrar expressing our grave concerns over several risks we were able to identify from the limited information we were given.

“Unlike the United States and other large GMO producing countries, maize is a staple food in South Africa which is eaten directly, and in much larger quantities. Thus the risk of toxic or allergenic effects for South Africans will be significantly increased,” said ACB director Mariam Mayet.

The timing of Monsanto’s application also constitutes a direct threat to farmers in South Africa, who have just produced the largest maize harvest since 1982. The 4 million ton surplus produced could ‘destroy’ the industry according to Minister of Agriculture Tina Joematt-Petterson, as falling prices will force many farmers out of business. With the agricultural sector also reeling from the continued transport strikes, the African Centre for Biosafety is of the opinion that Monsanto’s application to import its highly controversial Smartstax cannot be justified on any grounds, be they scientific, social or economic.

In the interests of biosafety, South African farmers, and consumers, we implore the Executive Council to reject this application.

Read the objection here.