"We do not want GMOs" say Africa's farmers (18/4/2006)

1.Don't allow importation of GMOs, Africa told - Tanzania
2.'Farmers are against Bt cotton' - South Africa/India
3.Why Is Africa Hungry? - Nigeria
4.GM food: is it safe or not? - South Africa

1.Don't allow importation of GMOs, Africa told
Patrick Kisembo, Morogoro Guardian (Tanzania), 2006-04-10 [shortened]

Africans governments should not accept genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be imported to their countries without thorough assessment done on the safety of such products to human beings and the environment, the newly launched Eastern and Southern Africa Farmers Forum (ESAFF) has said.

'We do not want GMOs,' said a statement from participants from nine African countries gathered to form the forum, which is expected to air the voices and concerns of small scale farmers in the region.

ESAFF Chairperson, Elizabeth Mpofu from Zimbabwe said GMOs had not been proved to be good for the health of the consumers.

'We know some governments have accepted these products to be imported in their countries without finding out the long term effects on human health and the environment," she said.

It was a bad risk to just assume GMOs are good, she said.

2.'Farmers are against Bt cotton'
Sunday April 16 2006

HYDERABAD: Cotton farmers are opposed to the use of Bt cotton seeds in India and South Africa, director of African Centre for Bio-safety (ACB) and international campaigner on genetic engineering Mariam Mayet has said.

Talking to newspersons here on Saturday, Mayet, who visited Warangal district where she met cotton-growers and interacted with them, said they supported the findings of hazards of Bt cotton, which had an impact on health and environment by deccan development society.

Stating that most of the farmers in the country who were using Bt cotton lost their crop and had health problems due to excessive usage of pesticides, she said Monsanto also bought two seed companies in Africa and was selling them in that country.

3.Why Is Africa Hungry?
Olayinka oyegbile
[email protected]
Sunday Independent (Nigeria), 16 April 2006 http://www.independentng.com/sunday/grapr160601.htm

No one would ever contradict the fact that Africa is in need of improving how its food is produced and preserved. This is because the process of food production and preservation is still largely at subsistence level and except for some few countries, which you can count at your fingertips, food production, or agriculture generally, is still dominated by the system used by our forefathers.

It is no surprise therefore to hear about famine on the continent. It is not an exaggeration to say that the continent suffers from famine not because of lack of lands to till but simply due to the fact that the land is still being tilled in the old way!

In some areas, farmers have come to depend on fertilisers for good yields even if the land is by itself fertile, this is because they have been made to believe that there is no way they can get improved yields until they use it. Sometimes, these fertilisers end up spoiling their yields or even contaminating the environment or making them sick.

The first global attention to famine in Africa was in the 80s when millions of children and women died in Ethiopia. As it is usual on the continent, the political leadership denied that there was any form of famine until millions had perished. It was the effort of Bob Geldoff, a musician who galvanised world stars to rally round the country and later raised some money to help the victims.

Just last year again, Niger was also afflicted by famine but the political leadership scoffed at the incident and dismissed it as nothing. According to the leadership, it was nothing unusual; it was not a famine but "food shortage" or something to that effect. Pray, what is famine and what is food shortage?

Are the dying and starving population interested in semantics? Where is the line between famine and shortage of food?

Amid all the hunger in his country, President Ahmadu Tandja of Niger still hosted the Anglophone countries’ games! That is Africa for you. At present, there are reports of threats of famine in East Africa and some parts of southern Africa.

Well, I have gone through all these to lay a premise for the thought of today. From all the above, we all agree that there is a need to improve the way we produce and preserve food on the continent. But the question is how do we do this?

We need to embrace technology and move with the times so as not to be left behind. And in this era of globalisation when the leaders of the continent tend to go along with their counterparts all over the world, they have continued to embrace all suggestions without examining the impact of their decisions on the majority of the populace.

It is in this light that we come to the issue of genetically modified organism (GMO) food that now seems to be the in thing now in some developed countries into which some African countries are also being wooed .

It is important to look critically at the issues involved before we open our doors to this idea, because as we all know, Africa is always a testing ground for all ideas, viable, unviable, laudable and ludicrous.

Last week, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Africa (ERA), played host to a 75-year old Canadian farmer, Mr Percy Schmeiser.

According to ERA Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey, Schmeiser was in the country as part of his tour of the continent to share his experience and enlighten the public on his battle with the big corporation Monsanto, the world giant of genetically modified crop.

In sharing his experiences and that of his country, Schemeiser warned that the continent must be careful in falling for the rosy pictures of the benefits of GMO as painted by Monsanto. He said the whole truth of the issue was never disclosed to countries or farmers before the introduction.

He spoke from a position of strength, deep experience and conviction. I watched him speak. I was impressed by his gentle demeanour. He was not forceful nor full of theatrics like most activists are wont to do. But one thing that was obvious was that he knew what he was talking about. He spoke with the conviction of a witness to the massive harm that GMO had done to his country and demonstrated a concern to see that other countries do not fall into the same pit.

As an individual, my concern was for Africa. If Canada with all its laws and development could fall for such a gimmick by a giant corporation, what hope is there for a less privileged continent like Africa? Do we have the capacity to confront and stand up to the lies of this corporate giant?

If Africa, which is always in a hurry to embrace any technology as long as it comes from the West, goes along to embrace the introduction of GMOs, what would be the fate of hapless farmers of the continent?

Schemeiser has the experience and should be listened to. He speaks from a vantage position and should not be ignored. But are African leaders ready to listen to this voice of reason? It is my strong belief, as Bassey pointed out at the dialogue he and Schemeiser held with the press and the civil society, that it is important to let the world know what it is to embrace this technology. It is not enough to copy what others are doing; we must look inward and see what it is in it for us before we embrace it.

Back to our question: Does Africa need GMO foods? The answer is No. What Africa needs is to improve on the way we practise agriculture. We have enough natural seeds to last us another lifetime. We don't need genetically modified seeds that would rather than lead to food boom kick-start a revolution of dependence on a giant corporation to supply us seeds and chemicals. This is nothing but slavery. And as Schmeiser said, whoever controls seeds supply controls food supply. Africa cannot afford to surrender its food security to some faceless giant corporation.

What we need on the continent is the knowledge to be able to produce more foods and the technology to preserve the surplus that have been produced and not some dubious GMOs.

4.GM food - is it safe or not?
Sheena Adams
The Star (South Africa), April 15 2006

Bloemfontein - Ground-breaking new trials using both animals and human cells to test the safety of genetically modified food products will begin soon at the country's only GM testing facility in the Free State.

Also called Frankenfoods, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been the subject of a raging worldwide debate for several years, with scientists divided over how safe they are to consume.

Many agree that while tests have so far failed to show conclusively that GMOs are bad for your health, no long-term tests have ever been attempted.

The project by the GMO testing facility at the University of the Free State has been described as the first "generational study", and will see scientists feeding a diet of GMO maize and soya beans to families of rats, mice and lambs over several years. The head of the facility, Professor Chris Viljoen, said this would be the first study of its kind in the world, but results would not be forthcoming for at least three years.

Raging worldwide debate

He added that the large-scale study was still dependent on the facility finding donors to fund the project, which he hoped to begin early next year.

"A lot of research we are funding ourselves, because the whole issue regarding GMOs is an emotional one. The fact that we are a facility that does testing means most people consider us to be anti-GM - it's actually quite ironic - and because of that, there are a number of scientists in South Africa who don't think what we are doing is important," Viljoen said.

State-sponsored bodies such as the National Research Foundation had so far turned down proposals for funding into GMOs.

GMO watchdog Biowatch has meanwhile welcomed the announcement, saying GM products were "sneaking into our food chain" in the absence of compulsory separation and labelling of GM products.

GM crops have been in South Africa since 1997 and the country is one of only eight around the world which grow the crops commercially.

'Emotional' issue

It is estimated that about 50% of South Africa's soya crop is genetically modified, as well as about 10% of its white maize crop, 24% of its yellow maize and about 85% of its cotton.

However, tests conducted by Viljoen's team at the beginning of this year on randomly selected soya and maize products on supermarket shelves showed that 90% of soya products and 61% of maize products tested contained traces of GMOs.

These included products like Ace, Blue Bird and Impala maize meal, Snowflake self-raising flour and the Old El Paso Taco Kit - none of which were labelled as containing GMOs.

The Department of Health published regulations pertaining to genetically modified food in 2004, making it mandatory for products containing GMOs to be labelled as such if it "differs significantly in composition, nutritional value, mode of storage, preparation or cooking" from its corresponding organic product.

However, Biowatch has pointed out that a "significant difference" is defined in the regulations as existing only where characteristics are different in terms of a scientific assessment of an "appropriate analysis of data". This means, in their view, that the regulations are in no way compulsory.

While Woolworths has undertaken in the past to remove all GMO products from its shelves, other large retailers have not followed suit.

Health Department spokesperson Solly Mabotha acknowledged that the regulations did not do enough to ensure compulsory labelling and said new draft regulations which would ensure this were at "an advanced stage".

Viljoen's team will be looking for things such as whether the GMOs elicit immune responses in animals, anatomical changes such as abnormalities in the intestinal tract, weight loss or gain, and reproductive health.

"I am often perceived as being anti-GM because I'm asking questions… That becomes perceived as anti-GM because there seems to be a real fear that accepting or rejecting GM is about accepting or rejecting science, and it's not," Viljoen said.

He added that the trials would ensure that if South Africa wants to license a GMO for commercial use in the future, the country would have the methodology necessary for the stringent, compulsory testing.

He found it "astounding" that, several years after opening shop, his GMO facility was still the only one in the country.

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