Monsanto, the controversial U.S.-based multinational company, has applied to conduct field trials with genetically modified maize in five locations across South Africa, including the Lutzville district in the Western Cape.
South Africa is the only country in Africa that has allowed the genetic modification of food crops to date and the only country in the world to have allowed the modification of a staple food – maize. Great numbers of consumers around the world have rejected GM food because it is not labeled as such in shops, and its effects are unpredictable.
Scientific evidence on genetically modified (GM) food shows that it could cause a wide range of serious unexpected health impacts such as allergies, ingesting of pesticides, and super resistant germs. It can also transform the environment in ways we can’t predict, like increased pest and weed resistance, detrimental soil impacts, and impacts on beneficial organisms. In fact, Monsanto has been involved in a number of lawsuits involving hundreds of millions of dollars, usually over health issues and patent issues.
When GM maize was introduced in the Eastern Cape, it created great hardships for small-scale farmers, like forcing them to take out loans to finance their crops and change their production methods. Farmers were forced to grow monocrops with chemicals and patented seeds, instead of being able to save their seeds each year.
At Lutzville along the West Coast there in an experimental GM maize field already growing under the auspices of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC).
Organics is the answer
Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that agro-ecological practices and organic agriculture can greatly increase productivity of agriculture. Studies demonstrate that organic agriculture has the potential to meet food security needs and sustain the current global human population without putting more farmland into production, and without the negative environmental consequences of conventional agriculture.
Despite all of this, South Africa is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of producing GMO crops, and has plans to follow the chemical industrial model of agriculture rather than supporting small-scale farmers and agro-ecological approaches to food production.
The Right to Agrarian Reform campaign and members of the Lutzville community strongly oppose Monsanto’s field trials on social, economic, and environmental grounds. A public meeting was held at the Uitkyk Community Hall in Lutzville as part of ongoing efforts to promote alternative agriculture and the right to food sovereignty.
Do you know what you are eating?
Three facts about South Africa that mean everybody should take a stance on genetically modified organisms (GMO) RIGHT NOW:
- The following genetically modified crops are grown in South Africa: maize, cotton, soybean, potato, tomato, apple and canola. This makes South Africa one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of producing GMO crops.
- Foods that contain genetically modified organisms are not labelled as such in the shops.
- Repeated tests of the country’s staple food have found that genetically modified maize get mixed with non-modified maize at mass storage facilities.
This means all of us are eating GMOs, without knowing and without having agreed to it.
But what are GMOs? They are products of a new science called genetic engineering. Genes are found in the cells of all living things and contain the unique information through which a life form reproduces itself. Through genetic engineering, scientists take the genes from one organism and transplant it into another organism. For example they can transplant some of the genes from a tomato into an apple. They create new varieties of life forms that would not develop in nature. They do not, and cannot, know the impact of the new breeds.
Risks to health, food sovereignty and religions
Now the greed for profit motivation of the big food corporations like Monsanto has moved them to release these GMOs into our food and environment.
This has caused problems and raised a number of concerns around, among others, health, food sovereignty, the environment, religion and social justice:
- Health problems associated with taking in GMO food include allergies, intestinal bleeding and ingesting of pesticides. Scientists are concerned that super-germs resistant to all treatment might develop out of the new genetic combinations.
- The right of people to decide what to eat is taken away. GMOs are forced on society. People’s say in the production and distribution of food are disrespected.
- It is well known that several environmental disasters resulted from the unthinking introduction of alien species into environments. With GMOs we are talking about organisms that have never existed before. The risk to the environment is massive. If something goes wrong it will affect all of us, but the decisions are made by a few rich and powerful businesses and politicians.
- Most religions have guidelines about eating. GMOs undermine people’s ability to follow those guidelines. A known practice for example is to transplant genes from pigs into rice. Muslims, Jews and those Christians forbidden to eat pig products are placed in a situation where they unknowingly are ingesting pig products.
- GMOs are attractive to profit seeking corporations as it offers them more control over the food chain. They patent certain life forms and charge people who want to farm with it. They change seeds in ways that means it cannot be used for planting, so farmers have to buy seeds from the corporations every season. In these ways GMOs give more wealth and power to the rich by taking it away from the poor. It makes an already unjust and unequal society even more so.