From the Editor
GM ending for Africa?
South Africa sprang a big surprise when it slapped a moratorium on genetically
modified (GM) imports at the end of October. The country has been the biotech
industry’s main entry-point into Africa as the industry was being driven out
of Europe. South Africa has a weak biosafety regime with biotech lobbyists
acting in a regulatory capacity, and is the only country on the continent
that has commercialised GM crops. This puts it seriously out of step with
neighbouring Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which are among the
dozen or so African countries that have imposed bans and restrictions on GM
imports following Zambia’s outright rejection of GM food aid in 2002 (SiS
The South African government has commissioned its Department of Trade and
Industry (DTI) to study the implications of GM imports on trade; and the moratorium
is not likely to end before the DTI study is complete by the end of next year.
As a major food producer
and exporter, South Africa is clearly worried about trade, especially
in GM maize. GM maize accounts for 70 percent of maize traded on the global
market. As very few countries want to import GM maize, there is a glut. So
South Africa, a net maize-exporter, finds it cheaper to import GM maize from
Argentina than to source it from within the country, with the result that
3.5 million tons of local non-GM maize could not be sold in 2005, leaving
South African farmers devastated.
is holding firm against GM food aid and imports despite projected food shortages
due to drought, and amid intense pressure to accept GM crops from an international
pro-GM lobby. It is opting instead for organic and other low input agriculture
that are boosting yields and farm income, and most important of all, liberating
farmers from decades of indebtedness and dependence on agrochemicals.
Whether intentional or not,
South Africa and Zambia are both making wise moves towards food
security for the same reason. High input/GM agriculture and cheap imports
both depend on cheap oil, which is fast disappearing.
Petrol queues are increasingly
common across the globe, and Zambia is no exception. Crude oil
price keeps rising, while fuel production lags further and further behind
consumption. On one occasion, I was trapped in my hotel room in Lusaka with
no electricity for part of the day because the hotel had been “shedded” from
the grid on a regular basis for weeks; and taxis were going nowhere because
the petrol pumps were empty. Could the end of cheap oil signal the end of
subsidised dumping as well as high input/GM agriculture?
If governments need more
convincing to give up GM crops, they should look at the new damning scientific
GM crops debacle now complete
GM crops are industrial monocultures only far worse.
Two traits account for very nearly all the GM crops grown commercially worldwide:
more than 75 percent are herbicide tolerant, nearly all to the herbicide glyphosate,
or Roundup, Monsanto’s formulation; the rest are insect-resistant, due to
a class of Bt-toxins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
has been accumulating over the years that all is not well with both types
of GM crops: yield drag, poor performance in the field, more pesticides used,
reduced profit for farmers, and bad for health and biodiversity.
A spate of recent findings
not only confirm what we already know, but also complete the debacle. Roundup
resistant superweeds and Bt-resistant insect pests have now been documented,
making both Roundup tolerant crops and Bt crops useless. The problems don’t
Bt crops express variable amounts of the toxins, often
insufficient to kill target pests; but harm beneficial insects including predators,
bees and soil decomposers. (Bt toxins are already known to be actual or potential
allergens and can provoke strong immune reactions.)
Roundup herbicide causes sudden crop death. It is lethal
to frogs, and highly toxic to human placental cells, even at one-tenth the
recommended dosage. (It is already linked to cancers, neuro-defects and spontaneous
That’s not all. A research
team led by Dr Irina Ermakova of the Russian Academy of Sciences
has just reported that 36 percent of rats born to GM-soya fed mothers were
severely stunted compared with 6 percent of rats born to mothers fed non GM-soya.
Within three weeks, 55.6 percent of the progeny of GM-soya fed rats died;
the death rate was six to eight times that of progeny from rats fed non-GM
soya, or a diet without added soya. This latest is perhaps the most dramatic
in a string of revelations indicating that GM food is far from safe, which
have been systematically dismissed, suppressed or not followed up.
It is sheer lunacy to expand the cultivation of GM crops
like these across the world, as the pro-GM lobby is pushing for. It can lead
nowhere else but towards global biodevastation, massive crop failures and
Stop GM soya in Latin America
We need look no further than Latin America for the nightmare scenario. It
is being destroyed by soya cultivation, especially with the arrival of GM
soya (“Argentina’s GM woes”, SiS
20; “How Europe is recolonizing America”, SiS
25). Soya is inextricably tied to the meat industry ever since agronomists
discovered that adding soya to grain could improve the feed to meat conversion
ratio up to two-fold. Countries like Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay
and Uruguay are driven to grow soya for foreign exchange, to repay foreign
debt, and in response to demand from importing countries especially China,
currently the world’s largest importer of soybean and soybean products. Soya
fields have been spreading in Latin America like an ecological canker, eating
up the pampas, the savannahs and the Amazonian forests; bringing with it massive
infrastructure projects for transporting and processing soybean that obliterate
natural habitats far beyond the areas cleared for soya cultivation. This is
happening just when the integrity of the Amazonian forests is absolutely essential
for stabilizing global climate against the increasingly frequent climatic
catastrophes of hurricanes, floods, droughts, and heatwaves.
It is time to wipe GM crops
off the planet. Governments in Latin America should put a halt
to the spread of GM soya right away and reconvert monoculture soya fields
back into forests or sustainable agro-forests with the help of the international
community, under the provision of the Kyoto Protocol. The rest of us can contribute
by rejecting not only GM soya, but also soya-fed beef in favour of organic
Scientists and universities for rent
Unfortunately, a powerful pro-GM lobby has infiltrated
every level of civil society from international aid agencies to governments,
and academia; I have crossed paths with it all too often.
Monsanto and other
biotech corporations have been funding university scientists to do their research
cheaply, yes; but also to do propaganda and to ‘debate’ with scientists like
me. We are defamed and libelled at public conferences, in the popular media
and pages of the learned journals. This happens worldwide. In Lusaka
recently, I came up against a scientist from the University of Zambia leading
an aggressive disinformation campaign against his country’s rejection of GM
crops, and exploiting the most horrendous image of a starving African child
to make his case. Following him, a scientist from Kenya used the same image
and told the exact same story.
Scientists like us
risk losing research grants and jobs, even those relatively high up in the
was director of the Leopold Center in Iowa State University
for the past five years, until he was suddenly and involuntarily made “distinguished
fellow”. His sins? He argued once too often that there is an urgent need for
“a more intelligent, diversified farming system.” Genetic modification, he
said, is “simply another tool to make the monoculture work a little longer”
in the face of the pests and diseases that monocultures encourage.
For his parting shot, Kirschenmann said Iowa State’s College of Agriculture “draws agribusiness cash the
way a penned-up pig wallowing in its own waste draws flies.”
If it’s any comfort, I have found it refreshing and liberating
to work outside academia since I was strongly encouraged to retire early in
2000, for speaking out on the risks of genetic modification.
Sustainable World Weekend Workshop
There is nothing to stop us independent scientists from telling the truth
and making science work for a sustainable and equitable world. To do just
that, we are organizing a weekend workshop with living legend Professor George
Chan of “Dream farm” fame (SiS
27), plus other luminaries (see backcover). Do apply early, as places
are strictly limited.
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