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Policy and Regulation » Africa

Title: African Civil Society Calls on the African Union to Ban Genetically Modified Crops
Publication date: November 27, 2012
Posting date: November 27, 2012

THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE

 

Dear friends and colleagues,

Re: African Civil Society calls on the African Union to ban genetically modified crops

Over 400 African organizations have called on the African Union (AU), ahead of the next AU summit in January 2013, to ban the cultivation, import and export of GMOs.

The petition, supported by a detailed report, highlights new scientific information that calls into question the safety of GM crops and associated chemicals and calls for a ban on GM crops on the continent until scientifically acceptable long-term safety procedures are developed and independent safety testing is carried out. Of particular concern is GM maize which is a staple crop for millions of Africans.

The groups also criticized the patenting of life and the privatisation of agriculture that is threatening to dispossess African food producers of control over their production systems. Instead, African policy makers are urged to follow the guidance provided by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which recommends moving away from industrial agriculture and GMOs, to food production systems that are appropriate for the millions of small-scale farmers around the world, who are primarily responsible for the global population's sustenance.

We reproduce below the press release announcing the petition, the petition itself, and the executive summary of the supporting documentation. The full report supporting the petition is available at: http://www.acbio.org.za/

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Item 1

African Civil Society calls on the African Union to ban genetically modified crops                               

African Centre for Biosafety, 25 November 2012

http://www.acbio.org.za/index.php/media/64-media-releases/412

An urgent appeal has been made to the African Union (AU) to discuss a ban on the cultivation, import and export of genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa at the next AU summit, to be held in January 2013. An African Civil Society Statement, signed by over 400 African organisations representing small-scale farmers, faith-based organisations, social movements, non-governmental organisations, organic producers, consumers, business people and ordinary citizens, has been sent to the Permanent Representative Council (PRC) of the AU. The statement was supported by a substantive document detailing the failure of GM technology to deliver any of its promised benefits since its global introduction some 16 years ago.

The group pointed to a dire lack of safety data on GM foods and condemned the patenting of life and the privatisation of agriculture that is threatening to dispossess African food producers of control over their production systems. They have requested that African leaders address the issue at next year’s Summit, themed “Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance”.

According to Ms. Elizabeth Mpofo, Chairperson of the East and Southern African Farmers Forum (ESAFF) and member of La Via Campesina, “corporate-owned, genetically modified seed won’t solve any of our problems. We have our own varieties, we have our own knowledge. We need to be supported so that we can flourish in the agricultural systems that are our heritage”.

The appeal for a ban comes in the wake of an independent study on the long-term safety of GM maize. The peer-reviewed study, published in the Journal of Chemical and Food Toxicology in September 2012, found that GM maize and its related chemical, glyphosate, had significant impacts on the kidneys and livers of rats, their hormonal balance, mortality rates and life spans. Rats also developed significant cancerous tumours after the fourth month of the study. Director of the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) , Ms Mariam Mayet, explained that, “the results of this study have been discredited by scientific bodies with industry ties, but even they acknowledge that long-term safety studies do not exist and are necessary. Maize is a staple food for millions of Africans, making it imperative to ensure that it is safe in the long term”.

International law on genetically modified crops is underpinned by the “Precautionary Principle”, essentially a “prevention is better than cure” philosophy. It obliges authorities to stop all activity that may cause harm until safety is established. Kenya has moved swiftly to ban the import of GM food until proven safe while an Indian expert committee, constituted by the Indian government, has recommended a 10 year moratorium on GM food crops. Dr Daniel Maingi of the Kenyan Coalition on Biodiversity, an umbrella organisation representing over 60 Kenyan organisations, congratulated the Kenyan government on their decision, saying that “the highest echelon of government has reaffirmed the need to protect Kenyan consumers, farmers, environment as well as animals, in spite of the pressure from the pro-GM lobby groups”.

The African Civil Society statement reminded the PRC that the “the African Union has played an important historical role in shaping global biosafety policy and shown admirable political will to protect African citizens. They must now show the rest of the world that GE crops can only be accepted when society is satisfied that their benefits outweigh the risks. Currently, that is not the case”.

Mr Faustin Vuningoma, Secretary General of the PELUM Association, an African regional network representing over 200 organisations, said that its members “stand to fight for food sovereignty through securing indigenous seed rights and practising ecological systems of agriculture that are affordable to the small-scale farmers and sustainable to feeding the masses”.

Contact:

Ms. Elizabeth Mpofu, Chairperson East and Southern Africa Farmers Forum and La Via Campesina member.

Ms. Mariam Mayet, Director African Centre for Biosafety, +27 (0) 83 269 4309, mariammayet@mweb.co.za

Dr. Daniel Maingi, Director, Kenya Biodiversity Network (KBioc) danielmaingi@gmail.com

Mr. Faustin Vuningoma, Secretary General, Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association (PELUM)

tel: +260 211 257 115 mobile: +260 966 221 739 fvuningoma@pelum.org.zm

Mr. Boaventura Monjane, La Via Campesina Africa, communication team: boa.monjane@viacampesina.org | +258 82 260 50 10

 

Notes for editors:

Link to the African Civil Society Statement  http://acbio.org.za/activist/index.php?m=u&f=dsp&petitionID=1

Supporting document, entitled, Supporting Documentation to the African Civil Society Statement Calling for a Ban on GMOs in Africa. Health, environmental, socio-economic impacts of GMOs; sixteen years of broken promises. http://www.acbio.org.za

 

Item 2

Petition to the African Union

Introduction

We, the undersigned, members of civil society organisations from across the African continent, hereby call for an immediate and complete ban on the growing, importing and exporting of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the African continent.

We call upon the governments of Africa to take the necessary steps to protect the health of their populations by supporting this call and commit to conducting independent and authoritative longterm food safety studies.

We also call upon the governments of Africa to take note of our additional strong objections to GMOs. These concern the patenting of life forms and privatisation of agriculture, which has led to the dependence by farmers, rural communities and indigenous people on external private and monopolistic seeds suppliers. We are also extremely concerned about the adverse impact of industrial and GM based agriculture on biodiversity and climate change. We cannot ignore the suicide epidemic of farmers in India- a direct result of farmers' dependence on GM cotton- and the resultant increased costs and unmanageable debt.

Scientific uncertainty about food safety

During September 2012, Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, and his research team at the University of Caen in France, published the results of a two-year animal feeding study, in which rats fed with Monsanto's herbicide tolerant GM maize, event NK603, and glyphosate residues, developed tumours and showed signs of liver and kidney damage. The peer reviewed study, published in a highly respected scientific journal has come under vicious and sustained attack from the biotechnology machinery.

Nevertheless, scientific consensus has emerged from the discourse, that the current methods used by Monsanto et al, for testing the safety of GM food are dangerously inadequate and that long term, independent and publicly conducted food safety studies are urgently needed. We also note with concern that there are no internationally agreed protocols for long term testing of GMOs.

The Precautionary Principle

Our call for a ban is consistent with the Precautionary Principle, which states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent that damage. This Principle is the cornerstone of the United Nations' Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the only truly global international agreement on GMOs. Even the World Trade Organisation's Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement supports such a moratorium in these circumstances of scientific uncertainty.*

Maize is a staple food in Africa

We stress that the African continent is particularly vulnerable to food safety risks, taking into account that maize is one of our important staple crops. Many millions of Africans eat maize on a daily basis, in a semi-processed form. Although only South Africa grows GM maize commercially on the continent, thousands of tons of GM maize are being exported to several African countries from South Africa, while the aisles of supermarkets up and down the continent are stocked with GM products. In addition, tons of GM food aid from the United States and other GM producing countries are distributed to Africans.

Ban GMOs in Africa

Recognising that millions of Africans have been consuming GM maize and other GM products without their knowledge or consent; and

Taking into account the new consensus that long term, independent food safety studies are urgently needed;

We strongly urge the government of South Africa, (as the only GM food producer on the continent) and all other African governments that import GMOs and GM products, to urgently respond to our calls for a ban.

We urge our policy makers to follow the guidance provided by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The IAASTD recommends that policy makers move away from industrial agriculture and GMOs, to food production systems that are appropriate for the millions of small-scale farmers around the world, who are primarily responsible for the global population's sustenance.

(Signed by 156 African civil society organisations and networks, 25 international organisations, and 450 individual global citizens.)

* "Art 5.7--In cases where relevant scientific evidence is insufficient, a Member may provisionally adopt sanitary or phytosanitary measures on the basis of available pertinent information, including that from the relevant international organizations as well as from sanitary or phytosanitary measures applied by other Members. In such circumstances, Members shall seek to obtain the additional information necessary for a more objective assessment of risk and review the sanitary or phytosanitary measure accordingly within a reasonable period of time."

 

 

Item 3

Executive Summary of the Supporting Documentation to the African Civil Society Statement Calling for a Ban on GMOs in Africa: Health, environmental, socio-economic impacts of GMOs. Sixteen years of broken promises.

Submitted to the African Union, 11/13/2012

Biotechnology has played a vital role in agriculture and in human civilisation as a whole; it has enabled us to breed the vast array of crops and domestic animals we know today, baked our bread and brewed our beer. However, the advent of modern biotechnology, or genetic engineering (GE), has “triggered major scientific, social and political controversies” since its introduction in the 1970’s. Although modern biotechnology has been championed as a solution to global hunger, malnutrition and climate change, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was established on the recognition that potentially harmful impacts of the new technology were likely to only be felt over the long term. Recognising the unique importance of agriculture on the African continent, Africa’s leaders were particularly vocal in support of the Precautionary Principle, and applied the same principle during the formulation of the African Model law on Biosafety. The following submission calls upon our leaders to again show this foresight, in light of new scientific evidence that has come to light over the safety of GM crops.

In September 2012 the highly respected scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology published an article by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini and his research team at the University if Caen, France. The article describes the results of a two year experiment, in which laboratory rats were fed various doses of a herbicide-tolerant genetically modified variety of maize (Monsanto’s NK603) and the glyphosate based herbicide ‘Roundup ‘ that is used in conjunction with it. In groups fed GM maize, 50% of males and 70% of female rats died prematurely, while between 50% and 80% of females fed GM maize developed tumours. Male rats fed GM maize displayed higher incidences of chronic kidney disease than male rats fed non-GM maize.

The publication of the study has been met with wide-spread criticism by many in the scientific community, as well as the biotechnology seed and agro-chemical companies who develop the technology. However, much of the methodological criticisms levelled at Seralini’s study could apply equally to the numerous industry-sponsored animal feeding studies that have been used as the basis to approve the cultivation and importation of GM crops (including Monsanto’s own study of NK603). Accusations that Seralini is known for his anti-GM views, and therefore is not an objective scientist have also been made by those scientists and organisations with a vested interest in the biotechnology industry. What has become overwhelmingly clear since the study was published is for the need for long term (i.e. for the full lifetime of the animal), independent animal feeding studies for GMOs, as well as experiments that take into account any potential effects of the pesticides that are used in conjunction with them.

Seralini’s study is not the first to have identified potential risks to human and animal health from consuming GMOs, nor from exposure to glyphosate and commercial formulations of glyphosate based herbicides (GBH). A brief literature review reveals that evidence has been found from animal feeding studies of detrimental effects from consuming GM maize, soya, tomatoes and oil-seed rape in rats, mice, rabbits and sheep. Numerous studies on glyphosate and GBH have found it to interfere with embryonic development and reproduction in a variety of mammals and aquatic organisms, while above average rates of spontaneous and late abortions have been observed in rural populations in areas where glyphosate is used.

The growing body of evidence as to the dire health threats posed by GM crops, and their associated pesticides, should not distract from the other numerous socio-economic implications of this technology. In Argentina over 50% of productive agricultural land is now sown with GM soybeans, leading to a rural exodus as peasant farmers have been forced from their lands into urban slums. In a country that is famous throughout the world for the fertility of its soils, the spread of GM Roundup Ready Soya has been accompanied by an alarming rise in poverty and malnutrition. In the Indian cotton belt, the introduction of insect resistant (Bt) cotton has engendered a social tragedy of almost unimaginable scale; between 2001 and 2010, saddled by debt, nearly 95,000 cotton farmers in the Indian cotton belt have committed suicide. Even in the United States, the pioneer of GM crops, and seemingly the most suited agricultural system for their implementation, a culture of fear and suspicion has taken over the US farming community. In the name of intellectual property rights, the biotechnology giant has sued 70 farmers to the tune of $23 million. Using old data from Monsanto’s website, the US based Centre for Food Safety estimates that, as of June 2006, up to 4,531 farmers had been forced to settle out of court, as much as $160 million in total.

It is worth pointing out that, despite the rhetoric coming from the biotechnology industry, GM crops are the exception, not the rule in global agriculture. A close analysis of industry figures reveal that GM crops are grown on just 3% of global agricultural land; for Africa the figure is even smaller, a miniscule 0.2%. Further, GM crop cultivation is highly concentrated, with just 4 countries accounting for 90% of the total. The industry lobby group the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) claims that 29 countries grow GM crops worldwide. Nearly half of these countries grow marginal quantities, with the data provided by the ISAAA highly questionable. Moreover, this leaves 154 countries (based on total United Nations membership) that do not grow GM crops. Several countries have taken the step to ban the cultivation and import of GM crops.

For African countries, the experience with GM crops in South Africa should be heeded carefully, as it remains the only African country that grows significant quantities of GM crops. It has also been growing genetically modified varieties of its staple food, maize, since 1998. The latest available industry figures indicate that 70% of South Africa’s maize crop is GM, and half of this contains the NK603 trait that Seralini’s study has just found to cause tumours in laboratory rats. The biotechnology industry claims that the high adoption rates of GM crops in South Africa are indicative if its success to commercial farmers and its suitability for small scale farmers. It is also claimed that GM crops have significantly contributed towards food security.

A more nuanced analysis of the situation reveals that this is not the case. For example, the insect resistant GM maize that, until recently, accounted for the overwhelming majority of GM crop plantings, has lost its efficacy in a very short time period, with reports of insect resistance to Bt coming in from all over the South African maize belt. While this insect resistance has caused the value to the farmer of Bt seeds to dwindle, seed prices have continued to rise. Between 2008 and 2012 the average price increases (across all varieties sold by all companies) of Bt yellow and white maize seed were 43% and 42% respectively. For small scale farmers, the experiences of cotton farmers in the Makhathini flats region of KwaZulu Natal is held up as an example of how GM seeds are ‘scale neutral’. Closer inspection of Makhathini reveals that the adoption of GM cotton by resource poor farmers was closely tied to the extension of credit, and was more readily available than conventional cotton seed varieties. The fact that the number of small scale cotton producers in South Africa fell from 2,849 in 2005/06 to 619 in 2010/11 (at a time when all the cotton seed sold in South Africa is GM) seriously calls into question the alleged ‘scale neutrality’ of GM seeds.

While GM maize has come to account for more and more of South Africa’s total maize crop (from 20% in 2005/06 to 70% at present) maize prices have continued to rise at a rate way in advance of other food items. For instance, in the 12 months to July 2012 maize products in urban areas increased by 31%, compared to an increase of 14% for wheat products. Overall food inflation over the same period was 5.3%. All of this has taken place in an increasingly secretive policy environment, with minimal opportunities for meaningful public participation, and where considerations of biosafety appear to have taken a back seat to the interests of the industry. By way of example, we illustrate some of the extremely lackadaisical biosafety data that has been submitted to South Africa’s regulators this year.

Questions over the safety of GM crops and their wider impact on society and the environment have been raised in numerous international bodies, not least the international Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Agricultural Development (IAASTD). This landmark study, completed in 2008, has called for a complete re-orientation away from GM crops and other chemically and energy intensive forms of agriculture towards agricultural systems based upon agroecological principles. These sentiments have since been echoed by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, who has cited ample evidence that not only are these methods socially equitable and environmentally sustainable, they are also more productive (particularly in Africa) than chemically based alternatives.

Taking into consideration all of the above, we hereby respectfully request the African Union (AU) to take the following precautionary steps to safe guard the health of our people, societies and environment:

· A complete ban on the import, export and cultivation of Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant maize variety NK603 within AU member states;

· A complete ban on the use of glyphosate based herbicides in AU member states;

· A further ban on the import, export and cultivation of all GM crops in AU member states;

· A renewed effort to align agricultural policy within AU member states with the findings and recommendations of the IAASTD.


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