With the crop planting season delayed, there is a permeating sense that the use of genetically modified corn seed could boost South Africa’s crop production.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, it expects South Africa to produce 14 million mt of crop amid the dry wet weather conditions. The Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) puts it at 10.5 million mt with expectations that it will rise to 11.2 million mt.
South African farmers were beginning to accept the reality of using GMO seeds to boost production. In 2016, over 180 million hectares of land in the country was under GM crops. The CEC further expected 2.5 million of hectares would be used for planting GM corn in the 2019/2020.
In 2016, South Africa planted 2.66 million ha of commercial GM crops. Three of these GM crop types were: maize (2.16 million ha, or 90% of the country’s production), soybean (494 000 ha, 95% of production) and cotton (9000 ha, 100% of production).
Experimental trials of GMO are not new to South Africa and begun as early as 1992 starting with Bt cotton. This was promptly followed by BT maize which was deemed conducive for human and animal consumption.
GMO is a regulated industry in South Africa governed by the “GMO” Act of 1997 and its accompanying Regulations. It is administrated by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development advised by an Executive Council (EC), Advisory Council (AC – mainly scientists), and with an administrator called GMO Registrar.
This 3-tiered structure ensures that all products containing GMO are carried in such a way to limit possible “harmful consequences to the environment, human, as well as, animal health.” Taryn De Beer of the University of Cape Town said their research concluded that GM food was increasingly entering the country’s food value chains unhindered.
This view was supported by the 2016 Human Sciences Research Council report titled Public Perceptions of Biotechnology survey in South Africa.
According to the survey results South Africans were aware that GMO food formed part of their daily diet and made food purchases knowingly or unknowingly.
Some NPO’s who have been fighting GMO’s for years claim that some GM products contain well over 5% organisms misrepresenting facts on their labelling. Some stores even had to hold back GM products.
Earlier in 2019, in a shocking move, the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza made a final decision on the appeal lodged by Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Limited against the decision taken by the Executive Council regarding the general release application of a genetically modified maize event MON87460 x MON89034 x NK603. While it may be a welcomed decision by the Minister, many of the farmers were looking to graze in the GMO fields leaving the public with no choice but to consume GM foods.