“All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons [and daughters] of the Earth.” Chief Seattle of the Duwamish Trib Concerns about the dangers of GM crops are mounting, and so is public awareness. It has been shown that GM crops increase herbicide use without increasing average yields, trap farmers in a cycle of debt and dependence, shrink biodiversity, harm beneficial insects and damage soil bacteria.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine recently called for a moratorium on GM foods. Their position paper stated:
“Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food. There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation.”
Biowatch wins landmark victory
In South Africa GM is not banned. Interesting developments of late were:
- Biowatch, a small South African environmental organisation, has just won a major legal battle against the state and a multinational agri-chemical and seed giant, Monsanto. In a nutshell, from the year 2000 BioWatch sought information from the state about release of GM crops. When no information was forthcoming, Biowatch launched court proceedings, demanding that this information be accessible. Monsanto then applied to and joined the case on the side of the state. Biowatch won the case, but was ordered to pay all costs of both the department of agriculture and Monsanto. However, in a judgement in South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, on 3 June this last month the judge overturned this ruling.
This is a landmark victory and will affect future rights of civil society to public information. Three varieties of Monsanto’s GM maize failed to produce crops in South Africa during the 2008/2009 growing season, leaving up to 200 000 hectares of fields barren of cobs and crop losses across several provinces. There has been a call for independent scientific investigation into the GM crop failure.
- The African Centre for Biosafety has warned that a wave of new GMOs are expected to flood the South African market during 2009, as the backlog of commodity import permits that have been stalled by a moratorium since 2005 are about to be processed. Vast amounts of money from biotech backers, such as the Bill Gates Foundation, are also bringing new GM crops into South Africa. These include GM rice and new varieties of food crops such as soya beans and maize con taining multiple or ‘stacked’ genes, which pose huge risks to human health and the environment, as well as GM droughtresistan maize, GM sugarcane for agrofuels and GM sorghum. Further, in a few months the GMO Executive council is due to announce whether South Africa will be the only country in the world to have GM potatoes on the market.
- Most maize grown in South Africa is GM. This is creating a problem for South African maize exporters. The World Food Programme (WFP), one of the biggest buyers of South African maize, may have to buy elsewhere due to a growing shortage of non-GM local mielies. This would be a huge blow to grain exporters, some of whom say they have already suffered economic losses due to the country’s heavy reliance on GM maize.
- “It is becoming more difficult every year to find sufficient quantities of non-gm maize in South Africa,” WFP Southern Africa spokesman Richard Lee said. “The majority of countries that we send maize to from South Africa as food assistance do not want GM maize.”
- South Africa, a key supplier of maize to the WFP, grows mostly GM maize, which is banned in most African countries.
- Personal action. Inform yourself and others; knowledge is the first step. Do personal research on GM foods and organic farming in South Africa; grow your own vegetables if you have a few square metres of earth; and live a simple organic lifestyle.
- Consumer action: Buy organic wherever possible; ask store owners to stock non-GM products; write to producers and distributors asking them to change their policies; and use corporate persuasion, i.e. divest of shares in GM companies.
- Political/community action: Vote for political candidates with green awareness; contact elected officials by letter or e-mail on GM issues; sign petitions; and support activist organisations (several are mentioned above). Read more at biowatch.org.za, www.gmwatch.org
GM fact file
- GM plantings make up a mere 2.4% of global agricultural crop land.
- Nearly 80% of the global area planted with GM crops is in just three countries: the USA, Argentina and Brazil.
- The USA alone plants over 50% of the world’s GM crops.
- Less than 3% of cropland in India and China is planted with GM crops, almost exclusively just one crop; GM cotton.
- In the 27 countries of the European Union, GM crop cultivation represents a mere 0.21% of agricultural land.
- The area of GM crops being grown has fallen in Europe every year since 2005.
- Most GM investment has gone into a small number of crops and traits targeted toward large-scale commercial farming.
- Only four crops – soya, maize, cotton and canola (oilseed rape) – comprise virtually 100% of GM agriculture.
- GM rice, wheat, tomatoes, sweetcorn, potatoes and popcorn have all been rejected as unacceptable in the global marketplace. â€¢ None of the GM crops on the market are modified for increased yield potential.
- Some studies show GM crops reduce yield.
- Disease-tolerant GM crops are practically non-existent.
- The GM industry has not marketed a single GM crop with enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance, salt-tolerance or any of the other ‘beneficial’ traits long-promised by the industry.
- There are no commercially available GM crops designed for biofuels.
- Almost all GM crops involve just two traits, mainly only one trait: herbicide tolerance.
- Herbicide tolerance is found in over 80% of all GM crops planted worldwide.
- GM crops have contributed substantially to increased pesticide use.
- Most new GM crop varieties are also pesticide-promoting.
- GM crops have caused an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds.
- This is encouraging the use of more toxic pesticides, including ones banned in some European countries.
- The real beneficiaries are the GM companies which profit from patents, expensive GM seeds, and increased pesticide sales.
- Monsanto is the world’s largest seed firm.
- They hold a near monopoly of the biotech ‘traits’ incorporated in GM seeds.
- They market Roundup, the world’s biggest-selling pesticide.
- The World Bank attributes 75% of global food price inflation to ‘biofuels.’
- Monsanto has been at the heart of the ‘biofuels’ lobby, particularly the lobby for corn ethanol.
- The price of Monsanto’s GM triple-stack corn will reportedly increase by around 35% in 2009.
- The average price for soybean seed, the largest GM crop in the USA, has risen by more than 50% in just two years from 2006 to 2008.
Information extracted from GM Watch.