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Setback for Monsanto in South Africa

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Wallpainting: South African flag
The South African Ministry of Agriculture has denied Monsanto a cultivation permit. © Pixabay/Public_Domain_Photography

Bayer subsidiary Monsanto has been trying to establish its drought-tolerant genetically engineered maize in Africa. It is intended to protect African farmers from the increasing effects of drought. But the maize does not live up to Monsanto’s promises. The South African Ministry of Agriculture has therefore denied Monsanto a cultivation permit.

Agricultural minister Thoko Didiza expressed himself clearly. In his public notice, he stresses that in experiments under conditions of water shortage, the genetically engineered maize did not show better results than conventional maize. All in all, the yields were inconsistent. In some experiments, Monsanto maize even produced poorer harvests than the compared varieties. In addition, the insect resistance could not be proven sufficiently. The Ministry’s conclusion: “The drought tolerance gene in the MON87460 x MON89034 x NK603 maize event did not provide yield protection in water-limited conditions“.

With the writing, Minister Thoko Didiza confirmed a decision of the approval body against which Monsanto has appealed. The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) praised the Minister’s firmness and spoke of a landmark decision. Together with other civil society organisations, ACB has been fighting against Monsanto’s efforts to introduce genetically modified maize in South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania for years. The Bayer subsidiary had specifically worked together with conventional cultivation programs that also researched drought-tolerant corn varieties. But while numerous conventional varieties that were able to cope better with water shortages resulted from the programs, experiments with Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn flopped.

Monsanto wants to import its drought-tolerant maize into the EU

Miriam Mayet, Director of the ACB explains: “The ACB has been exposing the lack of evidence of drought-tolerance since 2008, calling on Monsanto to prove the efficacy of this trait. But, as confirmed by the South African decision making bodies, Monsanto completely failed to provide scientific data to substantiate their claims”.

Unlike South Africa, Monsanto’s drought-tolerant maize has a cultivation permit in North America. To ensure that it can be imported into the EU without problems, Monsanto has applied for an import authorisation for food and feed. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already issued its Persil Certificate. Now the member states will have to decide on the approval. Testbiotech considers the approval for the EU to be unacceptable because the risks for humans and the environment have not been sufficiently investigated. “This maize has a new combination of traits that has not been tested under the environmental conditions of more extreme drought and heat expected in commercial cultivation”, explains Testbiotech Director Christoph Then. It has so far not been shown that food produced under these conditions was suitable and safe for consumption.

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