GENET archive


9-Misc: Monsanto under fire over GM crops in South Africa

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Monsanto under fire over GM crops
SOURCE: Business Report, South Africa, by Lynda Loxton
DATE:   31 Aug 2005

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Monsanto under fire over GM crops

Cape Town - Monsanto, the US-based producer of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs), faced some tough questioning in parliament yesterday
from sceptical parliamentarians concerned that it was trying to dominate
the market for maize and other crops in Africa.

But Kobus Lindeque, the managing director of Monsanto in sub-Saharan
Africa, gave as good as he got and claimed that the "vigorous worldwide
anti-GMO campaign" had more to do with efforts to keep genetically
modified (GM) crops out of markets because of American overproduction, EU
agricultural subsidies and plain prejudice than reality.

Members of the portfolio committee on science and technology had
expressed concern that some of the claims that GM crops were more
productive, needed less fertilisers and were drought resistant were
exaggerated. They also hid the fact that Monsanto monopolised the market
for GM seeds, which were not self-propagating.

Jennifer Thomson, a professor in the department of molecular and cell
biotechnology at the University of Cape Town, said she "resented claims
by anti-GMO activists that scientists are reluctant to condemn GMOs
because they are dependent on grants from the GMO industry". Thomson said
she was an independent scientist who had never received a grant or
financial support from any company that produced GMOs.

Several committee members had expressed concern about the "unintended
consequences" of GM crops, particularly on the health of consumers.

Thomson said there was "no scientific peer-proven evidence anywhere in
the world to show that food from GM crops is a threat to human or animal
health and will contaminate the environment, as is often claimed by

Sabina Khoza, the secretary-general of the National African Farmers'
Union and president of its Gauteng branch, said that recent trials with
GM maize around the country had shown that the crops could increase
yields by between 40 percent and 61 percent.

Lindeque said the fact that South Africa had been able to produce 14
million tons of maize this year when it only needed 7 million had partly
been due to the use of GM crops, usually known as Bt (biotechnology)
crops. This indicated the potential to help Africa grow enough maize to
feed itself, even if there were droughts.

He said that in 2004, more than 81 million hectares of GM crops had been
grown in 17 countries by 8.25 million farmers on all six continents. This
was an increase of 20 percent over the previous year.

In Africa, farmers were slowly getting to grips with using hybrid crops,
and the next step would be for them to move on to Bt crops, which were
even more productive.

Monsanto sold its crops only in countries that had regulatory systems in
place to monitor the use of GM crops to ensure their safety.

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Biotechnology Company Executive Briefs Committee On GM Products
SOURCE: BuaNews, South Africa, by Shaun Benton
DATE:   30 Aug 2005

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Biotechnology Company Executive Briefs Committee On GM Products

The managing director for sub-Saharan Africa of bio-technology firm
Monsanto today briefed members of the Portfolio Committee on Science and
Technology with a presentation on what he said were the benefits of
genetically-modified crops.

"Producers benefit because input costs and management time are reduced,"
Kobus Lindeque, the managing director for sub-Saharan Africa of Monsanto,
told members of the committee.

"Insect protected crops do not require as many insecticide applications,
and weed control with herbicide tolerant crops is much easier to manage,"
Mr Lindeque said.

Asked whether his company held a monopoly on sales of such genetically-
modified seeds, he responded by saying that there are five big
multinationals in the world working with genetically-modified organisms.

Asked why all GM crops are produced by multinationals, Mr Lindeque stated
that the tests involved in bringing GMOs to the market "costs money", and
that it was expensive to go through the "regulatory hurdles" set by
developed countries in particular, which tended to have a stronger
regulatory environment and had legislation in place dealing with
genetically-modified organisms.

An MP stated that concerns he had heard of included the fact that using
genetically-modified seed can make farmers dependent on big business,
that Monsanto had a monopoly on seeds and chemicals, and that, according
to the NGO Christian Aid, the use of GMOs "laid the preconditions for hunger".

Christian Aid, an agency that campaigns on behalf of Irish and British
churches for an end to poverty in the world, as well as against "the
rules that keep people poor", has warned that the possible environmental
effects of GMOs and the concentration of commercial control of GMOs add
up to a major threat to developing countries' food security and to the
sustainability of poor farmers' livelihoods.

While Mr Lindeque admitted that GM seeds were expensive, he argued that
they increased the crop yield for farmers, thus giving them more profits.

Sabina Khoza, a small-scale farmer from Gauteng who was in the meeting to
support Monsanto's arguments, said she prefers to "buy new seeds every
year" to benefit from the high yields.

"We pay higher prices for GM technology but compared with the costs of
spraying and higher yields we are better off," Ms Khoza said.

Christian Aid, however, argues that too much power over the world's food
is falling into too few hands, and warned of so-called "terminator
technology" or "the suicide seed" - a technology developed by the top
biotech corporations that will prevent seeds saved from a farmer's crop
from germinating again when planted.

The technology inherent in these GM seeds will then force farmers to buy
new seeds every year, as their saved seeds would not germinate.

The charity did say on its website, however, that this technology is not
yet available commercially, and that Monsanto have "promised not to
develop their terminator technology commercially, at least for the present".

A scientist also present at the meeting, Professor Jennifer Thomson of
the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape
Town, said there is no scientific evidence to prove that GM food poses a
health risk to man or beast, or that it could contaminate the environment.

                                 PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  'No evidence to show GMO a danger'
SOURCE: South African Press Agency
DATE:   30 Aug 2005

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'No evidence to show GMO a danger'

There is no scientific peer proven evidence anywhere in the world to show
that food from GM crops poses a danger to humans or animals and to the
environment, University of Cape Town molecular and cell biotechnology
academic Professor Jennifer Thomson said on Tuesday.

Addressing the National Assembly's science and technology committee,
Thomson said she resented claims by anti-GMO (genetically modified
organisms) activists that scientists were reluctant to condemn GMOs
because they were dependent on grants from the GMO industry.

"I totally reject this. Let me make it very clear: I am an independent
scientist. I have never received a grant or financial support from any
GMO company or the industry.

"There is no scientific peer proven evidence anywhere in the world to
show that food from GM crops is a threat to human or animal health or
will contaminate the environment, as is often claimed by activists," she said.

'GM food is safe for humans'

The European Union Commission had conducted 81 scientific research
projects over a period of 15 years at a cost of R640- million, financed
by the EU, and had come to the conclusion that "GM food is both safe for
humans and the environment".

The Royal Society of London and eight other academies of science from the
world's leading countries concurred.

Thomson said apart from food production GMOs offered unlimited scope for
agricultural growth and vast new applications in the field of medicine.

Known as pharming, vaccines against numerous infectious diseases were now
being developed from crops grown on the farm as an alternative to
injections at a fraction of the cost, she said.

A cholera vaccine, produced in a plant, could be given to a child at a
cost of 80 cents compared to normal treatment costing R500.

Using transgenic tobacco and potato plants, German scientists were
developing a vaccine against cervical cancer, the third most common
cancer in women.

These vaccines were not only being developed for human health, but also
for diseases threatening cattle.

Drought tolerant maize

Thomson is a member of a group of scientists at UCT who are in an
advanced stage of developing a drought tolerant maize.

"We have developed a number of strategies to isolate genes that are
functionally important in drought stress. We have isolated some 60 genes
that could potentially be used to improve drought tolerance in crops,"
she said.

National African Farmers' Union (NAFU) secretary general Sabina Khoza,
told the committee trials were conducted in the 2004/05 season on six
plots in six provinces with GM and non-GM maize planted side by side on
one hectare plots to compare yields.

The project was initiated by NAFU, Ikageng Women's League, Buhle Farmers'
Academy at Delmas, Cedara Agricultural College in KwaZulu-Natal, the
provincial departments of agriculture, and AfricaBio.

The GM maize on the six sites had an average yield increase of 40.5
percent over the conventional maize. The highest increase was 61 percent
on Khoza's own plot at Zuurbekom, Gauteng.

"This new technology is what Africa needs to overcome famine and give us
food for security. The small-scale maize farmer, like myself, is not only
a producer, but also an on-the-spot consumer.

"We start by eating corn on the cob and end with maize meal porridge. My
family and friends have been eating GM maize food for the past three
years and nobody has taken ill. We don't feed our children poison," she said.

                                 PART IV
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TITLE:  Cotton farmers ripped to shreds
SOURCE: Business Report, South Africa, by Thabiso Mochiko
DATE:   29 May 2005

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Cotton farmers ripped to shreds

Johannesburg - For the past five years, cotton farmers at Makhathini
Flats in northern KwaZulu-Natal have been fighting a losing battle that
has forced 2 400 of them to abandon their farms.

But there is uncertainty as to the cause of their downfall.

A study by Biowatch SA, an environmental activist group, claims that a
licence fee charged by US-based genetically modified (GM) seed producer
Monsanto on its patented Bt cotton is at the root of the farmers' problems.

The criticism is expected to spark another round of claims and counter-
claims in the seemingly endless argument between supporters and opponents
of GM seeds and crops.

Biowatch's research says that small-scale cotton farmers in northern
KwaZulu-Natal have not benefited from using Bt cotton, although the
Makhathini Cotton project has been hailed worldwide as an African success
story driven by the benefits bestowed by GM crops.

Bt cotton is genetically modified to contain an insecticide, which is
intended to eliminate the need to spray against bollworm, saving on
insecticide costs, eliminating side-effects and increasing yields.

The report states that Bt cotton, introduced in 1998, has failed on a
number of fronts, leaving the small farmers in debt and forcing credit
institutions to withdraw because farmers cannot repay their loans. The
number of farmers planting cotton in the area has dropped to 600 from
3 000 in 2000.

Since Bt cotton seeds are double the price of natural cotton seeds,
farmers increased their debt to be able to plant them, thereby increasing
their risk, according to the report.

"The licence fee doubled over the period and since farmers also
experienced drought, it was difficult for them to plant more crops and be
able to make profits," said Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, one of the researchers.

Monsanto charged a combined fee of about R750 for a Bt licence and 25kg
of Bt cotton seed, said Pschorn-Strauss.

However, Lotus Mavundla, a cotton farmer in the Makhathini area, said the
Bt cotton came as a "relief" for them.

"Bt cotton has helped us a lot to minimise the costs. If you use the non-
Bt cotton seed, we spray the crops [to prevent insects from damaging the
crop] many times more than we do when we use Bt Cotton," he said.

Derek van den Heever, the general manager of Makhathini Cotton, agreed
that the licensing fees did not cause the drop in farming in the area.

"Access to funding is a major problem. Because of drought faced by the
farmers, they were unable to crop more cotton and make money," he said.

Makhathini Cotton buys cotton from farmers and sells it on for
processing. South Africa consumes 300 000 tons of cotton a year.

Mbongeni Nxumalo, a member of the executive of the Ubongwa Farmers'
Association, said the farmers' problems started back in 2000 when excess
rainfall damaged the crops and made it difficult for them to harvest cotton.

The farmers were indebted to the Land Bank. They called the bank to
assess the damage and to find a way to repay their debts. But that was
only part of the problem: 2001 was a drought year and farmers were again
unable to harvest a crop.

Van den Heever said the financial institutions, Vunisa Cotton and the
Land Bank, withdrew their funding two years ago because the farmers had
accumulated more debt than they could pay.

Collectively the 3 000 farmers owe the institutions about R24 million.

The Ubongwa Farmers' Association is now in partnership with Makhathini -
65 percent of the money made from cotton sales will pay the debts and 35
percent will go to the farmers.

Bernard Mthenjwa, a community relations officer at Makhathini Cotton,
said the government had given the company a grant of R3.2 million to help
indebted farmers. "We will use the grant to buy fertilisers and other
chemicals needed to plant cotton."


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