On the 5th of September 2012 James Wilmot, Democratic Alliance MP and Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, issued a press release claiming that poor consumers cannot benefit from the “cost savings offered by GMOs” because genetically modified (GM) foods cannot be labelled.

He claimed that labelling could not be implemented without a testing facility and “without an active testing facility, the SABS cannot ensure the safety of GMOs for consumption by the general public. As a result, the Department’s interim solution has been to ban a number of GMOs until the testing facility is operational.” The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), an organisation that has campaigned rigorously on GMO labelling and related issues over the past decade, claims that James is confused.

Haidee Swanby, Outreach Officer for the ACB said, “It is clear that Mr. James does not understand how GMOs are regulated in this country and has mixed up the functions of the Departments of Trade and Industry and Agriculture. He also does not realise the extent of GMOs in our food system. There is no import ban due to labelling issues; South Africa stopped importing bulk GM shipments from Argentina and Brazil in 2010 when these countries approved GMOs that have not passed through South Africa’s biosafety system. Shipments originating from these countries will contain a mix of approved and unapproved GMOs. Under the rules of the United Nations Biosafety Protocol, South Africa may not allow unapproved GMOs into the country”.

In addition, Swanby pointed out that the University of the Free State runs a state-of-the-art GMO testing facility and highlighted the fact that “testing facilities do not ensure the safety of GMOs, they test for GM content. There is no independent safety testing done for GMO permit applications anywhere in the world, this is left up to the producers of the technology”. South Africa is the 9th largest producer of GMOs globally and has cultivated, imported and exported GMOs since 1998. About 72% of our maize production is genetically modified and over 90% of soya production is modified. The South African government granted approximately 1200 permits for GMO maize, just in the last three years. Up until 2010 South Africa was a major importer of GM maize, importing over 2 million tons from Argentina in 2007 alone. However, in that year South Africa produced an enormous 4 million ton surplus and has subsequently exported nearly 6 million tons of GM maize. Since the introduction of GM crops in South Africa, some fourteen years ago, labelling has been a contentious issue. While the food industry has fought labelling tooth and nail, consumers have been campaigning for the “right to know and the right to choose”.

In October 2011, consumers believed that their wish had been granted – the Consumer Protection Act required that all foods containing 5% or more GM content must be labelled. However, the food industry stalled the implementation of the labelling laws by convincing the Department of Trade and Industry that the law is not clear or implementable.

Swanby commented: “They would like GM labels to apply only to living modified organisms, for example GM seeds, but not to products made from GMOs or containing GM ingredients. This robs consumers of their rightful choice, but apparently industry has successfully lobbied the Department of Trade and Industry to protect their interests over that of the public.”

The introduction of GMOs into South Africa has profoundly transformed the country’s seed sector – South Africa’s domestic maize seed market is now dominated by three companies. A proposed merger between DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred and South African seed company, Pannar, could very soon reduce the ownership to just two – Monsanto and DuPont. Both of these companies are currently in the National Competition Commission’s spot lights.

ACB researcher Gareth Jones says, “it is these multinational seed companies, together with big agri-business, who are the real beneficiaries of GM seeds. For farmers, the cost of seed as a proportion of production costs has doubled in the last 5 years, while a 5kg bag of maize meal is today 84% more expensive than it was in 2008.

Fourteen years of GMOs have not brought down food prices or brought relief to some 20% of the population still without adequate access to food”.

Contact: Haidee Swanby: 082 459 8548 haidee@polka.co.za

Notes to editors:

Democratic Alliance press statement by Wilmot James MP, DA Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry. Modified food ban: Minister’s dawdling contributes to high food prices. 05 September 2012 http://www.da.org.za/newsroom.htm?action=view-news-item&id=11266

Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Press Release in response to the Animal Feeds Manufacturers Association (AFMA) on bulk imports of GM feed, 27 August 2012 http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/media/Media%20Release%20in%20reponse%20to%20AFMAs%20allegations.pdf