Namibia is expected to import some 160 000 tonnes of maize this year to feed the poor and needy and with that, the danger of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in such maize is looming again.
The Namibian Organic Association last year called on the Government to protect the nation against Monsanto’s GMO crops in view of the extraordinary danger it represents for the entire biosphere and the particular economic and environmental risks it poses for organic producers. It is important to note that the current Southern Africa generation will be the first generation of humans consuming GM maize as a staple food.
The National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) is mandated to implement the Biosafety Act, 2006 (Act no. 7, 2006) which provides for measures to regulate activities that involve the research & development, production, marketing, importation, transportation, and trans-boundary movement of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). NCRST has expedited the establishment of the Biosafety Council, which was fully constituted in September of 2014. The formation of the Council was an important milestone which allowed for commencement of a national process that would see the drafting of Biosafety regulations and full implementation of a national Biosafety framework.
The Biosafety regulations are important for enforcing the Biosafety Act. A consultative process was launched in September 2014 and comprised of public workshops and one-one meetings with key stakeholders. After conclusion of the stakeholder engagements the Biosafety regulations were drafted and were reviewed by legal experts. Once complete, the regulations will be submitted for gazetting.
South Africa grows 2.3 million ha of genetically modified crops, 1.8 million of which is planted to genetically modified (GM) maize. 54% of the white GM maize has been genetically engineered to tolerate liberal application of Glyphosate. All of the GM soya planted in South Africa is glyphosate tolerate.
Currently, there is a complete lack of testing for glyphosate residues in Southern African market produce. This is particularly perturbing given that the GMO authorities in South Africa have seen fit to authorise the commercial cultivation of GM herbicide tolerant crops that increase glyphosate usage, without there being any capacity development for labaratories to monitor the consequences.
GM crops are often claimed to give higher yields than naturally bred varieties. But the data does not support this claim. At best, GM crops have performed no better than their non- GM counterparts, with GM soybeans giving consistently lower yields.
A large and growing body of scientific research and on-the-ground experience indicate that GMOs fail to live up to claims of being safe for human consumption.
Contrary to industry claims, GM foods are not properly tested for human safety before they are released for sale. In Namibia, maize is a staple food, and imported maize products from South Africa contains high levels of GMO.
Tests conducted last year by the African Centre for Biosafety reported the following levels of GM maize in products: Purity’s Purity Baby First containing 71.47%, Purity’s Cream of Maize 56.25%, Nestle’s Cerelac Honey 77.85%, Ace super maize meal 78%, Jungle B’fast energy cereal 41%.
The international regulatory regime for GM crops and foods is too weak to protect consumers from the hazards posed by the technology and scientists are now reporting a growing number of studies that examine the effects of GM foods on laboratory animals and livestock. Effects include toxic and allergenic effects and altered nutritional value, which raise serious concerns regarding the safety of GM foods for humans.
GM feed affects the health of animals and may affect the humans who eat their products
Internationally, most GM crops go into animal feed. The GM industry and government regulators claim that meat, eggs, and dairy products from GM-fed animals do not need to carry a GM label because GM molecules – DNA and protein – are broken down in the animals’ digestive tracts and is not detectable in the final food product.
But this assumption is false, as studies have proved the opposite.
The argument that meat and dairy products from GM-fed animals do not need to carry a GM label cannot be scientifically justified.
GM crops are promoted as necessary to feed the world’s growing population. But it seems unlikely that they could make a significant contribution as they do not deliver higher yields or produce more with less inputs than non-GM crops.
Climate change brings sudden, extreme, and unpredictable changes in weather. If we are to survive, the crop base needs to be as flexible, resilient and diverse as possible. GM technology offers just the opposite – a narrowing of crop diversity and an inflexible technology that requires years and millions of dollars in investment for each new variety.