In August 2022, the South African government approved a GM wheat variety HB4 for importation as food, feed, and for the purposes of industrial food and feed processing, following Nigeria’s approval in July. Since then, Argentina and Brazil have been the only two countries to approve the commercial cultivation of this variety.

Why did the South African biosafety authorities give their approval, when the risk assessment lacked vital food safety evidence and not one feeding study has been done anywhere in the world?

Was this decision based on political expediency, what with pressure being exerted on Africa to find new wheat sources (possible Argentina), thereby minimising dependency on Russia and its geopolitical influence over Africa?

In this briefing, Dr Eva Sirinathsinji and ACB executive director Mariam Mayet argue that the South African biosafety regulators failed in the exercise of its biosafety oversight role to implement the precautionary principle, in granting approval for the importation of GM wheat to enter the South African food system.

Despite over two decades of biotechnology “development”, the only two dominant GM traits ­– herbicide tolerance and insect resistance – have not proven to be efficacious, resulting in the flat lining of adoption rates of GM crops. The push of yet another unproven GM staple food crop, with no evidence to back the promises of drought tolerance and climate adaptation, smacks of a desperate attempt by the biotech industry to capture lucrative wheat markets in Africa, in the light of multiple global crises

This GM wheat variety is the product of a 20-year Argentinian public-private partnership between the National Commission for Science and Technology (CONICET) and Bioceres, linked to big biotech, which is chasing approvals among wheat-importing nations to guarantee markets.

The genetic modification has entailed isolating a gene from a sunflower plant that is thought to manage its response to stresses such as drought, and thus theoretically may assist the wheat plant to be more drought tolerant. However, the efficacy is still to be proven and the extent of the risks are unknown.

This GM wheat project has even elicited strong condemnation from 1,400 scientists from the research community. They warn that the introduction of this crop will prolong an agribusiness model that damages the environment and biodiversity, which includes blanket spraying of known toxic chemicals, while jeopardising the health of people and impacting negatively on food security.

Key findings from the ACB’s report include:

  • The converging multiple global crises are being exploited by a failed biotechnology industry, to promote the latest GM technofix – GM wheat – touted as drought-tolerant and a climate change solution. Yet, complex traits such as drought tolerance in GM crop plants remain an unfulfilled promise.
  • The biotechnology industry has been unable in the last 25 years, to move beyond two dominant traits: herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, both of which are now facing widespread efficacy challenges. The incursion into GM wheat is a desperate attempt at survival, by making a bid for control over lucrative wheat markets including the African region, in a classic disaster capitalist manoeuvre.
  • There is considerable pressure on Africa to diversify its wheat sources and lessen its dependency on Russia, thereby also decreasing the influence geopolitically that Russia has over Africa. Argentinian wheat exports have been suggested to replace much of the global demand. Noteworthy, is that Nigeria, the world’s second largest wheat importer, approved the GM wheat, in July 2022.
  • The risk assessment furnished in respect of which the South African biosafety authorities (Executive Council: GMO Act) approved the GM wheat for importation into the South African food supply lacks pertinent and crucial food safety data, assessments, and evidence. Astonishingly, no feeding studies have been undertaken anywhere in the world regarding the GM wheat and thus it poses unacceptable risks to human and animal health, as well as undermining food sovereignty and nutrition security.
  • GM wheat prolongs and perpetuates the destructive nature of GM monocultures and the spraying of toxic chemicals and forecloses a just transition to agroecological practices.
  • The South African biosafety regulators have failed to adopt a risk averse and cautious approach in assessing the application as it is required to do, in granting approval for the importation of GM wheat to enter the South African food system.
  • There are serious concerns about contamination of the South African food supply. These concerns also extend to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, and Namibia ­– countries in the region that import wheat from South Africa. 

Considering the huge risks posed to human and animal health, as well as to food sovereignty and nutrition security, we strongly call on all South Africans to join us in requesting the Executive Council urgently reviews its decision and sets the approval aside, by writing to the chairperson of the Executive Council:

Julian B. Jaftha

Chairperson, Executive Council GMO Act

Chief Director: Plant Production & Health 


Harvest House Room 234 

Hamilton Street Arcadia Pretoria, 0001

Tel: 27 12 319 6536                Fax: 27 12 319 6347   Cell: 060 973 1645

Read the full briefing here. Please share this post with your friends and encourage them to also express their opposition.

This submission is endorsed by the following organisations:

Abalimi Bezekhaya
African Climate Reality Project
Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC)
Agro-Organics (Pty) Ltd
Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA)
Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD)
Biowatch South Africa
Delta Programme
DSI/NRF South African Research Chair (SARChI): Environmental and Social Dimensions of the Bio-economy
Dzomo la Mupo
East Cape Agricultural Research Project
Eco Hope
Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS)
Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG)
Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA)
Foundation for Human Rights
Good Food Network (GFN)
Green Heart Organics
Greenhouse Project
Hoedspruit Hub
Indigo development & change
Institute for Economic Justice
Isikhukukazi Primary Cooperative
Khanyisa Education and Development Trust
Land Access Movement of SA (LAMOSA)
Land National Network Engagement Strategy (LandNNES)
Local Wild Food Hub
Mahlathini Development Foundation (MDF)
Mapulaneng Heritage Council (MHC)
Mopani Farmers Association
Mpumalanga Provincial Institute of Civil Society Organisations
National Labour and Economic Development Institute (Naledi)
Nkuzi Development Association
Participatory Guarantee Systems South Africa (PGS SA)

  • Buffalo City PGS
  • Cape Town PGS
  • eGoli PGS
  • Giyani PGS
  • Monti PGS
  • Ogwini South Farmers PGS
  • Outeniqua PGS
  • Western Cape Farmers PGS

Port St John’s Farmers Association
Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA)
Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)
Seed 2 Harvest
Sikhasonke Primary Cooperative
Siyavuna Abalimi Development Centre
Siyazisiza Trust
SK Agricare
South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSO)
Southern Africa Food Lab (SAFL)
Support Centre for Land Change (SCLC)
Surplus People Project (SPP)
Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC)
The Movement in Africa (TMiA)
Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE)
Tshintsha Amakhaya
Ukuvuna Harvests
UKZN – Academic Leader: Public Health Medicine
Umgibe Farming Organics and Training Institute
Umncaka Primary Cooperative 
Unpoison SA
Women of Farms Project
Women’s Leadership and Training Programme (WLTP)
Zingela Ulwazi Trust
Zingisa Educational Trust