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3-Food: GM foodstuffs are here to stay, says Grain South Africa

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GM foodstuffs are here to stay, says Grain SA
SOURCE: Pretoria News, south Africa, by Bruce Venter
DATE:   30 Aug 2004 

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GM foodstuffs are here to stay, says Grain SA

Despite controversies surrounding genetically modified (GM) foods, 65% of
South Africa's yellow maize crop is grown from GM seed.

Yellow maize is primarily used to feed livestock, according to Grain
South Africa.

Anti-GM activists claim GM maize fed to feedlot cattle results in a GM
beef product entering the consumer market.

But Rudi van der Westhuizen of the South African Meat Industry Company
(Samic), dismisses the claim.

"A small percentage of GM maize is used in feedlots. It has no effect on
the cattle and this (beef) cannot be classified as GM," he said.

Dave Ford, managing director of the South African Feedlot Association
(Safa), said the industry uses white maize by-products to feed slaughter

GM seed produces only 15% of South Africa's white maize crop, which is
used for human consumption.

"Only a small amount of yellow maize is used in Safa feedlots. We rely on
white maize by-products that come out of the milling industry," he said.

Ford said slaughter cattle consume insignificant amounts of GM maize in
South African feedlots.

A spokesman for Grain SA said GM seed has been planted by the maize
industry for the past seven years.

"The use of GM seed is not new and is set to increase as the benefits
become more tangible for farmers," he said.

Despite a late rainfall season, South Africa's maize harvest for the
2003/04 season could still exceed 9-million tons.

Kobus Steenekamp, product manager for Monsanto, a US-based company that
researches and develops GM maize seed, said GM seed is a significant
factor in the increase in crop yields.

"GM seed can contribute an additional two million tons of maize in a
single harvest due to the plant's (GM) higher yield capacity," he said.

GM maize seed is produced by crossing two parent plants in order to
produce a hybrid containing certain traits from its donor plants.

"Through crossing an insect resistant plant with one that is herbicide
resistant, we produce a single plant resistant to both," said Steenekamp.

This is done by adding an additional gene to the plant's deoxyribonucleic
acid (DNA).

DNA is the carrier of a living organism's genetic information.

He said the benefits of GM maize are an increase in yield per hectare and
money saved on spraying pesticides.

Compared to conventional seed, the GM derivative can increase a crop
yield by between three and five tons per hectare, said Johannes Roussow,
a Monsanto maize researcher for Africa.

"Hybrid plants are developed to produce a maximum yield capacity and
resistance to herbicides and diseases," he said.

Insects, such as stalk borers and weeds can result in a 25 to 30% loss in
crop yield in a single harvest.

"Farmers can therefore use herbicide treatments that are environmentally
friendly, reliable and cost-effective," said Roussow.

Steenekamp said South Africa's 8 000 commercial and about 2,4-million
subsistence farmers are set to ensure a sustained maize supply by
planting GM seed.

"GM crops will contribute to our country's food security and increased
crop yields will cost less to produce," he said.

But Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of environmental group Biowatch said maize
crops are still vulnerable to other pests, despite genetic modifications.

"Reduced pesticide expenses promised by the GM crop proves attractive,
but you still have to spray pesticides to keep other pests away," said

She said that it can cost about R500 per hectare to spray pesticides to
combat diseases that can still attack GM modified plants.

Koos van Aswegen, a Free State maize farmer, said there is still
uncertainty as to the benefits of planting GM seed.

Van Aswegen, who has 1 000 hectares under maize, has planted GM seed for
two seasons. "The seed is resistant to stalk-borers, but I still have to
spray for other diseases as well," he said.

He said there has been an increased yield of "about one to two tons" per
hectare, but there is no price difference between GM and conventional maize.

Grain South Africa said there is no premium price on GM maize.

"Prices remain the same regardless. Another factor is that GM and
conventional maize is often grown by the same farmer who mixes both
harvests," said a spokesman.

Steenekamp concedes that GM maize fails to command a higher price.

The main concern surrounding GM crops is the impact on human health and
the environment.

"Insufficient research has resulted in (GM) products being rushed onto
the market and we are uncertain what the health effects of GM foods are,"
said Susan Craig, a plant pathologist.

But Steenekamp said no claims of health effects have been lodged
regarding the consumption of GM derived foodstuffs.

"In the past seven years, not a single instance of any adverse health
effects from the consumption of GM food products has been recorded," he said.

Craig says the environmental risks are also unknown.

"The unintended transfer of genes through cross-pollination can damage
ecological biodiversity if GM plants hybridise with natural flora," said

Maize is not indigenous to South Africa, so it cannot affect natural
flora, according to Steenekamp.

"GM maize cannot cross-pollinate with any other plant other than maize,
which is not naturally found in South Africa," he said.

Steenekamp said a GM plant undergoes 65 000 different tests to determine
its safety before release into the environment.

Bennie van Zyl of the Transvaal Agricultural Union-South Africa (TAU-SA),
agreed that although GM crops provide better yields, health safety was a

"Although TAU-SA has no problem with GM seed, we must emphasise the need
for ongoing research into the health and safety aspects of the
technology," Van Zyl said.


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