Archbishop Slams Use of GM Crops

Sunday Argus  23 May 2004   Cindy Mathys

Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane has expressed his dismay over the possible use of genetically engineered crops in this country days before a case in which a non-governmental organisation is trying to force the Department of Agriculture to reveal information about genetically engineered food and crops in South Africa.  The case starts in Pretoria tomorrow.  Ndungane said genetic engineering tinkered with the essence of life.

“Species that would not naturally reproduce are mixed together.  Through patenting seeds and genes, life forms can now be owned by corporations.  Through contamination of natural wildlife and plants, genetic engineering forever compromises the rights of future generations to a safe, healthy and diverse environment.”

He added that genetic engineering threatened rural livelihoods, food security and local control over genetic resources.

“Patent laws undermine the right of farmers to save seed, and one of the touted advantages of the patented seed, a reduction in the need for labour, is in fact disadvantageous when applied in Africa.”

Ndungane said he regretted that South Africa had “adopted a relatively cavalier approach” to the controversial technology.  “Do Africans need genetically engineered food?  I would argue, no.  At least, not until we are certain of the consequences of our actions.  Not until we know it is safe, that we can afford it and contain it, that it is suitable for our farmers and farming systems, that it will not lead to a reduction in jobs, that it will not destroy biodiversity and that it will not increase our dependence on rich nations.”

Ndungane added that while many countries did not approve of the new technology, South Africa was one of the few that had accepted genetically engineered food.

“Many countries around the world, including European Union and African countries, have not welcomed this new farming revolution with open arms,” he said.

“These countries have chosen to approach the importation and production of genetically modified organisms cautiously while trying to determine their safety and environmental risks.  “In 2002 South Africans became the first people in the world to eat genetically engineered white maize and more than 300 000 hectares of South African land had already been planted with a variety of engineered crops.”

If companies promoting genetically engineered crops really cared about the poor, “they would lobby their governments to stop subsidising their farmers instead of trying to sell Africa newly patented seed.”

“To sustain its system of subsidisation the US exported staple foods at below the cost of production, undercutting developing countries and undermining their farming sectors.  Much of this subsidised overproduction, particularly genetically engineered crops that had a limited market, ended up as food aid.”