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South Africa heads for a genetically engineered future January 25, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, genetic engineering, News, South Africa.
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AgriSA (formerly the South African Agricultural Union, which according to its website “serves some 70 000 large and small-scale commercial farmer members”) announced on Tuesday that the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in South Africa increased by a whopping 180% (by area) from last year to a current total of 1.4 million hectares.

Only India has a faster growth rate (192%) and South Africa is now the eighth biggest producer of GE crops worldwide with 44% of all maize, 80% of all soya and 90% of all cotton grown in the country being genetically engineered.

There has been considerable opposition to the introduction and accelerated cultivation of these crops in SA, especially from activist groups like SAFeAGE, Biowatch and Earthlife Africa, but much of it appears has fallen on deaf ears. The ANC government seems to be as steadfastly pro genetic engineering as it is pro nuclear power.

It is pretty safe to say that the vast majority of South Africans are unaware of the increasing quantities of GE crops being grown in the country. Most, in fact, are entirely unaware of what GE crops are in the first place and what their potential environmental, economic and health impacts may be.

Under similar circumstances free-market advocates may conceivably (I know, you’re laughing, but just bear with me on this one) claim that we should simply let the market take care of the situation. If consumers don’t want foods and other products that contain GE components, they won’t buy them and in the absence of a profitable market for its goods, the GE industry will simply wither away.

In South Africa we can’t even appeal to this mystical magical market mechanism (if we really wanted to, ahem) since consumers here have no choice in the matter at all. Even if they were the most GE-informed community in the world they wouldn’t have that choice.

In South Africa, GE crops and products containing them are still not required to be kept separate from non-GE crops, do not have to be appropriately labelled (although some retailers do it voluntarily) and, in effect, can not be traced through the various stages of production and processing.

Personally, I think all of this sucks on a number of levels – a major disaster on a national scale.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, I’ll talk to as many people about GE crops in South Africa (especially any Free State mielie farmers I come across), I’ll support organisations such as Biowatch and SAFeAGE wherever and whenever I can (any night-time raids on GE fields, count me in), I’ll try to grow more food in my garden and I’ll eat as much seasonal, locally-grown organic produce as I can lay my hands on (if you live in Cape Town, I can highly recommend Wild Organic Foods and The Ethical Co-op). It doesn’t sound like a lot, I know, but… baby steps, right!?

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