The ACB was shocked to discover that over the past years research has been conducted for the application for field trials of a genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant (Bt) and herbicide-tolerant (Ht) sugar cane variety, primarily as protection against the lepidopteran stalk borer Eldana saccharina.

As we report in our new alert, in the same timeframe, and in response to downward profits, the government has come up with a 2020 Masterplan for South African Sugarcane Value-chain to 2030 – one of several sector-specific masterplans aimed at expanding industries. Thus, the South African Sugar Research Institute (SASRI) is receiving support and funding from the Biosafety Unit of the Technology Innovation Agency of the National Department of Science and Innovation for its multi-institutional project that aims to have the first trial underway within two to three years.

This renewed interest in GM sugarcane also seems to be riding the global trend of growing crops for agrofuels since the Sugar Masterplan indicates that diversification into fuel ethanol could boost the sugar industry – an approach taken by Nigeria and Brazil, countries that lead on sugarcane production for agrofuel projects.

However, not only will the expansion of monoculture plantations further undermine local food systems and livelihood strategies, and the dispossession of rural communities from their land, as well as prolonging their harmful effects on the environment, but it is also highly likely that resistance will emerge and thus, as with other GM crops, GM sugarcane will fail.

While we do recognise the need to wean off fossil fuels dependency and modes of consumption and production that harm the environment and people, we are strongly against the expansion of industrial-scale monoculture plantations – and GM sugarcane – as part of renewable energy solutions.

We continue to call for a moratorium on all environmental releases of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and advocate for a precautionary approach in the assessment of the field trials. We also demand that there be vigorous balanced risk assessments and full disclosure to the public of the environmental and socio-economic risks and the impact of GM sugarcane cultivation.

For more details, please click here to read the full alert.

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