GM Wheat Out of Africa! Groundswell Support for Rejection of GM Wheat Approval in South Africa


JOHANNESBURG – From across South Africa, the rest of the African continent, and the world, 85 organisations representing millions of small-scale farmers, workers, and consumers have strongly supported and endorsed a submission by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) to the biosafety authorities in South Africa.

This submission requests the Executive Council: GMO Act (EC) to review and set aside its decision to allow the importation of GM wheat variety HB4 into South Africa and the rest of the continent. The importation of the wheat is slated to come from Argentina, where it is being commercially cultivated alongside conventional wheat.

The ACB notes that the EC failed to consider relevant scientific evidence concerning the adverse impacts posed by GM wheat, considering that wheat is a staple food consumed daily by millions of people. The ACB contends that the EC, in failing to properly apply its minds to the GM wheat import application, did not comply with the GMO Act’s precautionary principle, and as such its decision is procedurally flawed and should therefore be reviewed and set aside.

This GM wheat project has elicited strong condemnation from 1,400 scientists from the research community, who warn that the introduction of this crop will prolong an agribusiness model that damages the environment and biodiversity, which includes blanket spraying of known toxic chemicals, while jeopardising the health of people and impacting negatively on food security.

Mariam Mayet, executive director of the ACB comments:

“We are astonished at the decision that there was no need to pursue whole food and feed studies. This suggests that there was no rigorous scientific assessment conducted in relation to the safety and efficacy of GM wheat. To make matters worse, the EC failed to call for an independent risk assessment despite there being no data at all on the safety of the GM wheat in question, particularly since no feeding studies had been undertaken anywhere in the world.”

This decision followed on from Nigeria’s approval in July. Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, deputy executive director at Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Programme, Friends of the Earth Africa, remarks:

“If the South African EC can show this level of laxity and refusal to follow the right protocols, over a matter of such grave importance, how do they expect their people to trust them in making other decisions that protects their food, crops and livestock! This pointed disregard of the best interests of South Africans and Africans at large, and our right to be consulted and respected, makes me wonder if we have surrendered our sovereignty to corporate interests. The decisions by our governments could even be seen as nullifying much of what we were able to achieve during the negotiations of the Convention of Biological Diversity’s Cartagena Protocol, and in the battle for the survival of the soul of our food, diets and culture. Nevertheless, we remain undaunted and call on the governments of both South Africa and Nigeria to set aside these GM wheat approvals.”

This GM wheat variety is the product of a 20-year Argentinian public-private partnership between the National Commission for Science and Technology (CONICET) and Bioceres, which is chasing approvals among wheat-importing nations to guarantee markets before it expands to full-scale production. Argentina and Brazil have been the only two countries to approve the commercial cultivation of this variety, which is also strongly being contested by civil society and farmers’ organisations in those countries.

Wheat is South Africa’s most important grain crop after maize and the country is both a wheat importer and an exporter. Not only could this GM wheat contaminate South Africa’s food supply but also poses risks to countries in Africa that we export to, which include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, and Namibia, never mind the consumer’s right to choose? Will products containing GM wheat be labelled as such?

Considering the risks posed to human and animal health, as well as to food sovereignty and nutritional security, the ACB supported by civil society from around the world, calls on the EC to separate the wheat from the chaff and set the approval aside. Furthermore, we urge the government to go against the grain of the past two decades and initiate a moratorium on all approvals ­– commodity clearance, importation and environmental releases – of genetically modified organisms.

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