GENET archive


2-Plants: South Africa produces first gene-modified maize

mailinglist genet-news
South Africa produces first gene-modified maize
March 8, 1999

PRETORIA, Reuters [WS] via NewsEdge Corporation: South Africa's first 
genetically modified grain has been grown commercially and will be sold 
on the market mixed with other grains, a leading seed seller said on 
Friday. "Up to 50,000 hectares of genetically modified maize has been 
planted this season and will be sold in the commercial market," he said.
Two strains of yellow maize, both resistant to stalk borer, a pest that 
attacks maize, were being commercially cultivated. "Farmers are accepting 
this seed because it is giving them good results and good yields," he 
said. South Africa has not experienced the same backlash against 
genetically modified crops that has swept across Europe and is souring 
relations between the European Union and the United States.
"If Africa stays out of the trend of genetically modified crops then it 
is going to lose out on the advantages and advances in genetically 
modified organisms," said Walter Loubser, deputy director of plant 
genetics resources at South Africa's department of agriculture. Although 
the grain is treated as a controlled product, it may be imported into the 
country under strict controls, said Eben Rademeyer, director of plant and 
quality control at the department. "Our legislation says that if 
something has been genetically modified then it is a controlled product 
and you will have to get a permit from the department to import it," he 
said. He said the department was neutral on the matter of genetically 
modified crops, but thoroughly tested all modified grains, especially 
seeds, that were brought into the country. "It is quite a rigorous 
process and takes years before the product is cleared for commercial 
release," Rademeyer told Reuters. He said grains for consumption also 
fell under the restriction if the kernels were whole and alive, but if 
they were ground to flour the restriction did not apply.
South Africa cleared the way for commercial production of modified cotton 
and maize after a testing period of about five years, he said. There is 
no system in place to notify consumers that they are buying genetically 
altered maize or not, Rademeyer said. "In practice it is very difficult 
to separate the different grains. There is no such system in place," he 
said. The government passed legislation known as the Genetically Modified 
Organisms Act that will promote and make more easily available new 
technology in the field as well as exercising strict control over 
modified products in the environment.
A researcher at South Africa's Grain Crops Institute, Dr Koos van 
Rensburg, said the modified maize posed no threat to human or animal 
health. "The maize has been altered to produce a toxin that is specific 
for stalk borer. It is absolutely safe for humans and animals. The toxin 
is not in the grain," van Rensburg told Reuters. He said the technology 
could save the 30 million rand ($4.8 million) a year spent on spraying to 
control the borer. "There is a lot of emotion involved in this issue 
without any scientific basis. It holds so much potential for our rural 
people who grow maize on a subsistance level and lose crops because they 
can't afford pesticides," he said.

($1 - 6.20 rand)
(Johannesburg newsroom, phone: +27-11-775-3131 fax: +27-11-775-3132, 
[Copyright 1999, Reuters]

-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
-| email:

Genet News