More news fromsouth Africa

by Trevor Wells This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*GM Seed Producers Suffer Severe Losses

The most significant happening during September was the announcement by Willie van der Merwe, Maize Crop Field Manager, Monsanto, that contracts for the production of GM seed for sale to South African farmers will not be renewed for the coming season.

Some farmers in the north have been awarded contracts to produce GM seed for export. Local seed producers whose contracts have not been renewed are screaming like the proverbial patented Monsanto pig! "We cannot switch easily to other crops. Seed production is capital intensive."

van der Merwe made the excuse that unsold stocks and low demand by local farmers for GM seed was to blame. Some of the forsaken seed producers have turned to forage and pasture crops under expensive irrigation. All agree that livestock production will not pay the high debts they incurred for the irrigation infrastructure they required to produce Monsanto's GM seed.

Monsanto say they made no promises when they awarded the contracts and have refused to compensate the farmers for the loss they have suffered because of the failure of Monsanto to renew their seed production contracts. Caveat emptor ... Let the signer beware!

One could say the farmers had reasonable expectations but it could also be argued that they should have read the writing on the wall. Leading investment advisers such as Morgan Stanley, HSBC and Deutsche Bank have been consistently warning of the risks of GM crops and food for the last few years. Insurance companies worldwide refuse to insure invasive GM crops. Not a day goes by without some "accident", mix up, or bungling causing complete havoc and huge costs somewhere in the world. This one year respite will have a major impact on the way forward.

*Powerful alliance protest over antibiotic resistant maize falls on deaf ears.

All this comes in the wake of the powerful South African Council of Churches expressing horror that South Africa is the only country in the world where GM white maize is allowed in the human food chain without the unsuspecting public being informed!

Why not?

Daily newspapers carried a cartoon depicting South Africans as guinea pigs.

The fact that South African babies and infants, without the knowledge of their parents, are being fed large quantities of toxic Bt food has caused outrage. Bt crops continually manufacture their own deadly insecticide internally. Unlike traditional pest control methods it cannot be applied only when needed nor can it be washed off. It is always present at its highest potency.

Third Reich once again?

This horrendous event has been compared with the experiments on infants by the Third Reich. Official protests by Biowatch, the SACC and the powerful Congress of Trade Unions to ban and dispose of Bt10 maize (an un-approved GM product that contaminated all South African Syngenta Bt11 shipments), which contains antibiotic resistant marker genes in every cell were met with frivolous excuses by the officials delegated to protect us. This maize has been condemned in every country in the world except South Africa. It can't even be used for animal feed. Antibiotic markers are being phased out worldwide because of health risks. In August and September ships from America attempting to dump this maize on an unsuspecting public were blockaded in Europe, Ireland and Japan.

*International GM food expert Jeffrey Smith astounded by huge quantities of toxic Bt maize eaten as staple diet in South Africa.

During September, Jeffrey Smith the author of the international best seller "The Seeds of Deception", toured South Africa talking at Universities to scientists and students and at other venues to the labour movement and the public.

The daily newspapers quoted him as saying that he was astounded to find that South Africa was the only country in the world where a genetically manipulated staple food, that means, where the food forms the major part of the diet and is eaten in large quantities daily, has been allowed on to an unsuspecting public.

In the USA and Europe comparatively small quantities of "corn" are eaten. Smith who has been campaigning against GM foods for many years was living proof that the consumption of GM foods by billions of people in the USA has affected their brain cells. It is my observation that those who have persistently eaten GM foods without knowing it have also voted for George Bush. It was most refreshing to listen to a man of his calibre coming out here to lend support to our campaign. I went to listen to him at the labour research centre in Salt River. Not only is he a brilliant speaker who does not talk down to people; he is a brilliant and sensitive listener who was able to quickly understand the grass roots problems facing South Africa.

*90% majority natural maize farmers suffer loss because of 10% minority who plant alien invasive GM maize

According to Jannie deVilliers, Executive Director of the Chamber of Milling, white maize sales on the retail market have dropped drastically. In addition he says it is difficult to export our "cocktail maize" because the 90% component of natural maize is contaminated with 10% of the alien invasive GM maize. We all know of the losses natural farmers suffered when the World Food Program rejected our contaminated maize. They are now buying natural maize from Zambia which is streaks ahead of South Africa in its approach to invasive alien GM food crops. It even has a proper testing facility which is not financed by the seed industry.

For the same reason many South African natural farmers have lost out on the recent EU-SADC tender for 93000MT of non GM white maize. De Villiers announced that Tiger Brands who openly bragged about their GM white maize sold in 10kg bags, especially in their subsidiary SPAR convenient stores, has been forced to close down their Pietermaritzburg plant.

Premier/Bokomo who sell GM food disguised as natural health foods are heavily in debt. Bully Bothma, fired Chief of beleaguered Grain.SA., predicted many maize farmers would go bankrupt.

*Social and environmental responsibility

Tongaat- Hulletts have embraced the Global Compact for social responsiblity and announced they will only purchase identity proven natural maize. Natural maize producers who managed to keep their produce safe from contamination had a windfall when Japan came to their rescue and purchased certified natural white maize to replace the banned American Bt10 which was blockaded at their ports. The situation is precarious. We can not allow this invasive crop to cause havoc in South Africa.

*Costs for GM farmers prohibitive

Jeffrey Smith pointed out that the cost of labeling will be negligible for the non GM farmer and the food producer. It will however have a major negative effect on the sales of the the GM grower and of course any food producer who chooses to continue using these aliens.

The GM farmer who plants invasive aliens will also have to bear the cost of planting the required gene- fences or refuges around his invasive crop. All this was never told to the Government and the GM farmers 10 years ago when Africabio and seed giant salesmen advised them. This group forms a powerful lobby and will try to make the tax payer and the consumer bear the burden of these exorbitant costs.

Natural Farmers must unite or be caught with a slap riem.

They are even arguing that if the natural farmer wants to protect the integrity of his crops then he should plant his own protective gene-fence. Their argument being that the natural farmer is standing in the way of their progress. Natural farmers need to be aware of this debate or they will be caught with a slap riem. They must rally and caucus to form a strong lobbying group to counter the professional lobyists, Africabio,( who will falsely claim to represent civil society), the wealthy seed giants and any GM farmers who might not not be astute enough to continue taking the risks for these arrogant seed merchants. The example of the betrayed GM seed producers should be sufficient warning of the treatment they can expect from the chemical industry. All that is required is for their shareholders to make a decision and they will desert the sinking ship.

*DEAT meeting of role players to discuss "LIABILITY and REDRESS"

On the 6th October the Biosafety/GM Directorate of the Department of `Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) meets with roleplayers in Pretoria to discuss "liability and redress in terms of Cartagena Protocol." The industry and Africabio are there in force. Biowatch and Safeage are ably represented, supported and mandated by Flag and the other environmental organisations in South Africa. The first thing they will have to do is establish the rules and agree on a process for conflict resolution within the forum. I would recommend that they obtain the expert advice of a senior negotiator from COSATU experienced in the rules of a properly constituted Bargaining Council. The next thing is to object to Africabio falsely pretending to represent civil society. A check on their constiution and their last AGM (if they have ever had one) will reveal that they are in fact wholly owned by Monsanto and Dupont and all their subsidiaries, despite their registration as a non-profit organisation. Director Wadzi who is a prodigy of this secret front should recuse herself or prove her integrity and loyalty to the citizens of South Africa who are paying her salary. She must do this by either declaring that Africabio represents the industry and expels the representatives from the packed contingency of subsidiary biotech/seed companies or she must expel Africabio. Our reps are very thin on the ground but extremely capable and experienced in envionmental matters. They have done a sterling job up to now on an uneven playing field. This will be another talk shop talk shop if the fields are not levelled. This is an extremely important and contentious issue. The World is watching us. The Canadian Government caused a scandal by blocking a visa for Dr Behran the African expert who was instrumental in forcing the redress and liability clause into the Cartagena Protocol. Nepad is watching. This is the arrogance displayed towards protagonists of natural indigenous knowledge. They are name-called, and true to industry propaganda, labeled as tribal stumbling blocks in the path of progress. Hopefully we are above this in South Africa where good faith bargaining has become a proudly South African tradition. Our reps are very thin on the ground and out numbered. Africabio and the industry are all payed to attend whereas the reps of civil society are more often than not volunteers with a very limited budget. Surely there must be funds for public participation in such an important issue?

Kenya have already promulgated their rules on liability and redress which are available for perusal on the internet.

Natural farmers have very real direct concerns and rights in this issue and must organise to speak with one voice. Rally round and join the Farmers Legal Action Group. We need your valuable input and support.

*Pick 'n Pay send out a clear signal

Pick 'n Pay, South Africa's and probably Africa's largest food supermarket chainstore, after a long period of resistance and antagonism to producers who voluntarily labelled their products as GM Free, have finally given in to market forces and are supporting organic farmers. In a full page advert in the the Farmers Weekly(22 September) Pick ' Pay called upon farmers, companies and consumers to be chemical free. ''A shocking fact is that chemicals were introduced into South African agriculture only 50 years ago....If we don't make the necessary changes, the effects will be devastating: chronic ilness will continue to rise and doors to the international export market will continue to close on chemical and GM based agricultural production, which is being widely promoted in South Africa." Surely a clear signal from a major roleplayer.

The Government has however chosen to embark upon on a massive multimillion pro GM food promotion. It has been dubbed and lampooned as SERIFINA 3.

*After 10 years Ethiopia celebrates sustainable rural farming and total food security

We are celebrating 10 years of democracy. 10 years ago Ethiopia was starving. Ethiopia chose the indigenous knowledge pathway. Our government chose the GM pathway. "Organic is for the rich. Our people in the rural areas cannot afford organic. GM is the way to go". Only the big seed giants have benefitted from South Africa's mistaken choice.

The rural people are forced off the land. One shack dweller whose dwelling had bee ravaged in the recent fire disaster stated on national television. "The government is doing nothing to encourage us to stay on our land".

Ethiopia on the other hand after 10 years celebrates sustainable agriculture and total food security.

The truth is that GM agriculture has done nothing for the people of South Africa except cost them millions of rands in increased production costs and loss of earnings.

Big agribusiness employs machines and aeroplanes and exports to foreign markets. All the money goes into the hands of a few . Sustainable natural farming employs thousands of people and feeds them fresh produce in the areas where they live. The profits are spread in the community where you live.


If Pick 'n Pay can make the change without losing face, WHY CAN'T THE GOVERNMENT?