The first GE staple crop
Published in the Cape Times, Cape Town, South Africa. 19 March 2002.
Your coverage of Genetically engineered (GE) crops and the views of Dr Tewolde Egziabher of Ethiopia (Cape Times March 12) is timely. His succinct analysis that GE crops are a dangerous attempt of a scientific solution for an environmental, economic and political problem is accurate. SA produces a surplus of food yet 40 percent of our population suffers from malnutrition. The present range of GE crops will never diminish African hunger+ADs- instead they present profound risks to our people and our diverse ecosystems.
South Africa has recently allowed the release of the first GE white maize in the world into the environment. This is also the first staple GE crop in the world. This maize has been planted with no public discussion, no public participation in deciding the merits of this crop and no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). This is illegal and immoral.
The people of the region who rely on white maize as a staple are unwitting subjects in a cynical experiment never before attempted+ADs- the genetic alteration of a human staple. There has never been any testing of GE crops on humans. The poor of this nation who rely on maize have not been consulted, have no way of managing the risks and are unable to recognise and report on problems when they occur.
Contrary to claims by promoters of GE crops that these crops have been declared safe, Groups like the British Royal Society and the British Medical Association have expressed profound concerns, with babies and youth being especially at risk. Since the introduction of GE soy into Britain, allergies to soy have increased. Promoters claim that nobody has been affected by GE food, but who is checking? GE results in the scrambling of genetic instructions, is not precise and is unpredictable in its effects over time.
Dr Egziabher, head of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency knows of what he speaks. South Africa would do well to listen to a fellow African who has informed himself about the matter. He was a key person in negotiating the International Biosafety protocol, known as the Cartagena Protocol, which South Africa has yet to sign. South Africa is out of step with the rest of the region in its rush to introduce GE crops+ADs- even our neighbours Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe have expressed concern. These crops only benefit one group+ADs- the trans-national corporations like Monsanto that are buying up our seed companies and will repatriate profit to America.
The emphasis on GE draws attention and resources from real solutions to Africa+IBk-s hunger+ADs- we need increased extension programmes, increased research, information sharing and protection and improvement of our soils. GE is a step in entirely the wrong direction.
Cape Town Greens
Green Party of South Africa