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2-Plants: South Africa may be channel for GMOs slipping into Africa

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TITLE:  South Africa may be channel for GMOs slipping into Africa
SOURCE: Reuters, by Ed Stoddard
DATE:   03  Feb 2006

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South Africa may be channel for GMOs slipping into Africa

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Much of Africa has reservations about
genetically modified foods and seeds (GMOs) and few countries allow them
legally, but that may not prevent their spread.

South Africa, which embraces GMOs and is the regional economic
powerhouse, could be the portal for them entering the rest of the
continent -- no matter what individual nations may do, industry watchers
and activists say.

"South Africa is seen as the GMO gateway to Africa because of its
sophisticated economy and infrastructure," Melody Emmett of the African
Centre for Biosafety told Reuters this week.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and environmental activist Wangari Maathai of
Kenya told Reuters that poor African governments could be lured to
accept GMOs by the pull of cash.

"It is important to appreciate that in Africa many governments are
desperate for money and they can easily be persuaded by unscrupulous
international organisations to embrace a technology whose impacts they
cannot control or may not even fully understand, and therefore put their
people in jeopardy."

"That is my concern. We have seen how, if you come with money as a
carrot, governments will embrace," she said.

Opposition to GMOs in Africa stems in part from fears that the
continent's farmers could lose market access to Europe.

European consumers widely oppose what many see as "Frankenstein foods",
despite industry claims they are safe.

If Africa turns to GMO seeds and foods, Europe may not buy them.

African countries also have concerns about possible unknown side effects
-- real fears on a continent already racked by the lethal curses of AIDS
and malaria.

Those who support GMOs say that Africa, which experiences frequent food
shortages, would benefit from the higher yields they say are associated
with the technology.

"I hope that Africa drops its opposition to GMOs," a senior official
with a major aid agency said. [it's hard to imagine that being said
except by someone in a US dominated aid agency]

The agencies say they will not send GMO foods into African countries
which don't want them.

"We don't take GMO foods into countries that have bans on the
technology. In that case we only source non-GMO or mill it depending on
the restrictions," said Mike Huggins, a spokesman for the World Food


Despite such assurances, the anti-GMO camp is worried by the unregulated
movement of foodstuffs by informal trade networks across Africa's porous
borders, which differs from the monitored shipment and trucking of food
for commercial or aid purposes.

South Africa's Department of Agriculture says registered exports such as
commercial maize are tested and certified for their GMO content,
although some countries outside of Africa, such as Korea, say the checks
are not sufficiently stringent.

And there is a large informal trade which is not regulated.

"South African borders are porous and people take food home with them
for sale or for consumption," Leslie Liddell, director of NGO Biowatch
South Africa, said.

Millions of people from neighbouring countries come to South Africa to
work and there is huge movement across borders.

The South African office of agricultural products provider U.S.-based
Monsanto, one of the main developers of GMO seeds, says GMO made up 40
to 50 percent of miaze seeds it sold in South Africa this growing
season, double the previous season.

The office declined to disclose turnover or market share.

By some estimates, close to 20 percent of South Africa's maize crop is
GMO, making it almost a given that some crosses the borders in informal trade.

If unmilled maize is taken across borders, the seed can easily find its
way into the ground of African states which have banned GMO imports. The
southern African states of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi all ban or
restrict GMO imports.

-- Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi


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