Government hands out free GM seeds to farmers (27/8/2003)

As the recent report from  Aaron deGrassi at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, showed, Monsanto GM crops have not only failed to solve South Africa's small-scale farmers' existing problems with debt, but have actually deepened and widened their indebtedness, saddling them with debts of $1.2 million.

But it seems Monsanto and the SA government, which has been working hand in glove with the multinational, are determined to keep the show on the road.
Government hand's out free GM seeds to farmers
August 27, 2003,
By Melanie Gosling

The Department of Agriculture has been handing out free genetically modified (GM) maize seeds to small-scale farmers as a means of spreading the controversial crops in South Africa.

This was a submission made by environmental groups before the parliamentary portfolio committee on environment affairs yesterday.

Thoko Makhanya of Safeage said yesterday agricultural extension officers were giving away free GM seed in KwaZulu-Natal, while Monsanto, the multi-national seed giant, was giving away free GM seed in the Eastern Cape.

The issue under discussion was the draft Biodiversity Bill which has dropped a section that dealt with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

This meant the Department of Environment Affairs would relinquish its control over GMOs, which would be controlled by the Department of Agriculture under the Genetically Modified Organisms Act.

The groups submitted that this act was flawed. They said the Department of Agriculture, which promoted GMOs, should not also be the government agent which oversaw safeguards against the risks associated with GMOs.

Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of Biowatch said the government was under enormous international political pressure to push GMOs: "This GM technique is patented, companies own it.

Farmers sign an agreement that they will not save seed for the next year's crop. They have to buy seed again the next year from these companies."

While commercial farmers could afford this, most poorer farmers could not. About 90% of small-scale farmers in Africa saved seed from one  year to the next.

"This is a critical issue. With GM crops, small-scale farmers will become completely reliant on and controlled by big foreign companies for their food supply," Pschorn-Strauss said.

Biowatch was "extremely alarmed" that nearly 300 field trials and commercial releases of GM crops had taken place in South Africa without a single environmental impact assessment having been done on any of them.

Problems associated with GM crops were emerging all over the world. In Canada and the US, invasive GMOs had become a major problem, while maize in Mexico had become contaminated with GM maize.

It was imperative that the Biodiversity Bill include a separate chapter on GMOs.

Glenn Ashton of Safeage said South Africa was a signatory to several UN conventions which obliged us to protect our biodiversity. If the Department of Environment Affairs gave control of GMOs to the Department of Agriculture, the government would not be fulfilling their obligations under these conventions.

"We're talking about a seed giant who wants to push seeds on us and which has a very powerful influence on the Department of Agriculture. The only logical way to deal with GMOs is to have new controlling legislation in the biodiversity bill," Ashton said.

The portfolio committee asked Environment Affairs director-general Chippy Olver to draft a section for the Bill dealing with the GMO issue.
Environment Writer
Quote of the week?

"How many polls, protests and warning signs does it take...? The Government is not listening to science, to its own voters or to our overseas markets. Countries that embraced GM food in the mid-1990s were ignorant and careless. Countries that voluntarily give up their coveted GM-free status now are being deliberately and obstinately foolish." - Jeanette Fitzsimons: 'GM industry falling apart worldwide'

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