Local farmers are continuing to use toxic glyphosate-based products, and are farming crops that have been genetically modified and are therefore Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). And even if these products were correctly labeled, the majority of South Africans would have little choice but to consume them,” said Haidee Swanby from African Centre for Biosafety (ACB).
Jonathan Latham, who writes for Bioscience, claims that the purpose of GM foods is not to feed the world or improve farming, but is rather about commercial gain. Latham points out that GMO’s exist in order for crop suppliers to maintain intellectual property or patent rights over seeds and plant breeding in order to drive agriculture in the direction that benefits agribusinesses.
The Consumer Protection Act makes labeling of GM food mandatory. But the food industry disputes the interpretation of the regulations meant to implement this, and so we have been at stalemate on the labeling issue for years now.
Approximately 99% of soya and 84% of maize grown in this country is GMO. This means that these food crops have had their natural DNA or their genes altered with DNA molecules from a different source. This combining of DNA sets leads to the creation of a new variety of plant or organism, designed to n withstand weed killers and herbicides that contain the active ingredient glyphosate – a product that kills all plants that are not genetically modified.
Glyphosate is found in every loaf of bread sold in supermarkets across the country. Glyphosate is a carcinogen, which means that it is capable of causing cancer. Farmer Angus, a popular farming blogger, has warned that the chemical cannot be destroyed by cooking.
A study by Friends of the Earth Europe revealed that the populations of 18 countries globally have traces of glyphosate in their urine. The implications are serious for South Africa, as the European Union does not cultivate glyphosate-tolerant GM crops and only imports products that are used for animal feed and not human consumption, as is the case here.
Until 2008 South Africa was the only cultivator of GM maize, cotton and soybeans on the continent. But then Egypt began growing GM maize and Burkina Faso started growing GM cotton. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a Melinda-Gates Foundation-funded organization, is now seeking to increase farm productivity across the continent, and strongly believes that farmers don’t need GMO seeds to improve yields.
“The Consumer Protection Act makes labeling of GM food mandatory. But the food industry disputes the interpretation of the regulations meant to implement this, and so we have been at stalemate on the labeling issue for years now. However, although some companies have started labeling voluntarily, government is certainly not doing enough to implement labeling, and monitoring – which is extremely necessary – is not happening,” said Swanby.
“There are health related issues which include impacts on the kidneys, liver, the stomach, reproductive system and the immune system. Research needs to be followed up as most GMOs are grown with herbicides – particularly glyphosate, which was declared a probable human carcinogen by the International Research Agency of the World Health Organisation (IARC). This has implications for consumers, farmers and farm workers,” she warned.
“The Health Department does not have a position on GMO as there is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. Much of the public is convinced that genetic modification is a health danger, hence the fierce push to label GMO food. Some of the health concerns of food safety are warranted.
“Scientific evidence recommends caution with respect to certain kinds of GMOs, especially if there are genes involved that confer antibiotic resistance. The Health Department’s role is to work with all stakeholders and the food industry to ensure that the South African public has access to nutritious food that enhances their overall health status,” said Popo Maja, media liaison officer for the national Department of Health.