Data judged insufficient to demonstrate efficacy

The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has welcomed the decision of the South African biosafety authorities, rejecting Monsanto’s application for the commercial release of its GM drought-tolerant triple-stacked maize MON87460 x MON89034 x NK603.

At its meeting on 2 October 2018, the Executive Council (EC) refused to authorize the GM maize for commercial growing as it found that the data provided by Monsanto was insufficient to demonstrate the claimed drought-tolerant and insect resistant efficacy of the GM event.

In particular, the EC found that the drought tolerant field trial data presented by Monsanto for trials conducted over a period of five years (2014-2018) in Hopetown, Orania, Lutzville and Malelane, were sorely wanting.

The EC found that the drought data provided by Monsanto, specifically the kernel count per row and the kernel count per ear data, showed no statistical significant difference between the GM event and conventional maize.

It further found that the yield benefits associated with the GM event were inconsistent and that in some trials, the GM maize had lower yields than that of conventional maize.

Finally, it found that the insect-resistant data presented by Monsanto was insufficient as it was collected only from one trial site and then too, only for a limited number of growing seasons.

The ACB has been rigorously interrogating Monsanto’s GM drought tolerant maize project, which is linked to the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, for more than 10 years. According to ACB’s executive director, Mariam Mayet, “We are elated with this decision, as we have consistently disputed the veracity of Monsanto’s claims of increased yield performance of MON87460 under water-limited and water-scarce conditions in South Africa."

The ACB and more than 25,000 people from South Africa, the rest of the continent and around the world signed a petition rejecting Monsanto’s application on the grounds that:
* The application was not backed by peer-reviewed scientific data and evidence supporting Monsanto’s claim that MON87460 will confer drought tolerance
* The experimental design to assess the efficacy of the trait was flawed, and
* Potential socio-economic risks posed by MON87460 to smallholder and resource poor farmers had not been considered.

MON87460 stems from a Monsanto/Gates Foundation project, the WEMA project. The project is being implemented in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique, and purports to offer the GM drought tolerant maize to smallholder farmers in Africa as a "climate smart" solution to abiotic stresses such as drought. Unscientific and unsubstantiated claims have also been made by various scientists associated with the project that Bt maize varieties under the project are a solution to combat the fall armyworm (FAW).

Mayet says that the ACB “remains hopeful that we may be taking an important corner in South Africa as evidence emerges of the failure of GM technology. Studies are consistently showing resistance of the African maize stalkborer pest (Busseola fusca) to GM Bt insecticidal maize of single-gene and stacked-gene types.”

Sabrina Masinjila, research and outreach officer with the ACB, based in Tanzania, said, “The ACB calls on all African governments to implement holistic strategies, which are already showing efficacy in the field, to support small-holder farmers. These include various agro-ecological strategies such as intercropping, the ‘push-pull’ system and integrated pest management strategies. These are being implemented in both the Americas and Africa and provide sustainable solutions to the FAW. They will not further indebt farmers or compromise their health or that of their surrounding environment."

Further information

1. MON 89034 expresses cold shock protein (CspbB) and Nptll that purportedly confer drought tolerance. MON 89034 expresses Cry proteins that purportedly confer protection against insect pests and NK 603 expresses proteins that purportedly confer tolerance to glyphosate.
2. The ACB has consistently opposed the field trials of MON87460 since 2007. It has brought the appeal against the decision to commercialise this trait in its own interests, in the public interest and in the interest of protecting the environment, supported by Legal Aid. This matter is not yet ripe for hearing and may well be abandoned by Monsanto now that this triple stacked event has been rejected.
3. A 2018 peer reviewed study showed that the African maize stalkborer pest is already largely resistant to single-gene Bt maize and is showing first signs of resistance to stacked-trait Bt maize.
4. Frequently Asked Questions about the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project:

Download Executive Council decision document:

Source: ACB