Mon­santo maize seed ‘Tro­jan horse’

Saturday Star - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

AN ANTI-GMO lobby group has ac­cused multi­na­tional seed c o mpany Mon­santo of “colonis­ing” South Africa’s food sys­tem with its new “bo­gus” drought-tol­er­ant maize seed that it wants to make com­mer­cially avail­able to the coun­try’s farm­ers.

The firm says its ap­pli­ca­tion for Drought trait is de­signed to help the maize plant use less wa­ter in a drought, “cre­at­ing the op­por­tu­nity to con­serve soil mois­ture and help min­imise yield loss un­der drought con­di­tions”.

But a pe­ti­tion by the African Cen­tre for Bio­di­ver­sity (ACB), dis­putes this, chal­leng­ing the claims of drought tol­er­ance as a “Tro­jan horse and yet an­other risky and novel gene in­tro­duced into our sta­ple food

“We all love mealies and the many other food prod­ucts we get from maize seeds… but wher­ever Mon­santo does busi­ness, com­mu­ni­ties health and the en­vi­ron­ment are at risk.

“To make even more money, they’re try­ing to push their so- called drought- t ol­er­ant maize seed on to our farm­ers.

“Mon­santo is us­ing the drought and our ris­ing food prices as a means of in­sert­ing its bo­gus drought-tol­er­ant tech­nol­ogy and maize into the South African food sys­tems.”

Magda du Toit, a spokesper­son for Mon­santo, says the firm is com­mit­ted to bring­ing a broad range of so­lu­tions to help farm­ers.

“The fu­ture and well-be­ing of mil­lions of peo­ple lies in the hands of farm­ers – large com­mer­cial farm­ers, as well as small-holder farm­ers.

“The DroughtGard® trait fa­cil­i­tates im­proved wa­ter use ef­fi­ciency. Drought or wa­ter stress is one of the ma­jor fac­tors that can im­pact on yields in South Africa. The drought trait alone can­not guar­an­tee suc­cess, but farm­ers can use it as an­other tool in their sys­tems-based ap­proach to give their maize crop the best chance to sur­vive and thrive in cli­mates prone to drought.

The ACB says it is “deeply trou­bled by the con­tin­u­ous in­tro­duc­tion of risky GMOs into our food and far ming sys­tems”, which since their in­tro­duc­tion into South Afri- ca’s food sys­tem in 1998 – there are around 2.3 mil­lion hectares of GMO crops in­clud­ing maize, soya and cot­ton planted – has “done noth­ing to ad­dress our na­tion’s hunger prob­lems”.

“In­stead, we are left with pol­luted soil and wa­ter and loss of our su­pe­rior lo­cal farmer-bred va­ri­eties of maize.”

The ACB wants South Africa to ban the use of glyphosate, which Mon­santo sells with this prod­uct to farm­ers. The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s I nter na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­search into Can­cer cat- egorised glyphosate as a class 2A car­cino­gen in May 2015.

Land be­long­ing to small­holder farm­ers has been con­tam­i­nated, claims the ACB, which says more GMOs will fur­ther erode far mers’ seed sys­tems.

Mariam Mayet, who heads the ACB, says it is try­ing to in­ter­ro­gate Mon­santo’s claims for DroughtGard®.

“We’ve asked the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide us with the field trial data so we can see the ex­tent to which these drought tol­er­ant va­ri­eties are per­form­ing well un­der wa­ter stress con­di­tions.

“All of this is con­fi­den­tial busi­ness in­for­ma­tion so they won’t share it with us. But it’s in the pub­lic in­ter­est for us to ver­ify these claims,” she says.

“We call on our gov­ern­ment to re­ject Mon­santo’s ap­pli­ca­tion and be­gin a real di­a­logue with South Africans to tran­si­tion out of in­dus­trial and GM-based agri­cul­ture sys­tems and work to­wards real cli­mate-re­silient so­lu­tions that are eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able, so­cially just and takes care of the nu­tri­tional needs of all South Africans.”

*Pub­lic com­ments can be e-mailed to GMOApp.gov.za by April 5.

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