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The Namibian Organic Association calls on the Government to protect the nation against Monsanto’s GMO Crops

The Namibian Organic Association is opposed to genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture, in view of the extraordinary danger it represents for the entire biosphere and the particular economic and environmental risks it poses for organic producers.

Genetically Modified Organisms:

  • Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
  • Leads to unacceptable threats to human health as it can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
  • Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
  • Do not increase yield potential
  • Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
  • Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
  • Have mixed economic effects
  • Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
  • Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
  • Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
  • Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.
  • Violate farmers' fundamental property rights and endangerment of their economic independence
Supporters of GMO technology claim that genetically modified (GM) crops:

  • Are an extension of natural breeding and do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops
  • Are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops
  • Are strictly regulated for safety
  • Increase crop yields
  • Reduce pesticide use
  • Benefit farmers and make their lives easier
  • Bring economic benefits
  • Benefit the environment
  • Can help solve problems caused by climate change
  • Reduce energy use
  • Will help feed the world.
However, a large and growing body of scientific research and on-the-ground experience indicate that GMOs fail to live up to these claims. Instead, conventional plant breeding, in some cases helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant crops that can meet our present and future food needs.

Human Health

Contrary to industry claims, GM foods are not properly tested for human safety before they are released for sale. In Namibia, maize is a staple food, and imported maize products from South Africa contains high levels of GMO.

Recent tests conducted by the African Centre for Biosafety reported the following levels of GM Maize in products: Purity’s Purity Baby First containing 71.47%, Purity’s Cream of Maize 56.25%, Nestle’s Cerelac Honey 77.85%, Ace super maize meal 78%, Jungle B’fast energy cereal 41%.

The international regulatory regime for GM crops and foods is too weak to protect consumers from the hazards posed by the technology and scientists are now reporting a growing number of studies that examine the effects of GM foods on laboratory animals and livestock. Effects include toxic and allergenic effects and altered nutritional value, which raise serious concerns regarding the safety of GM foods for humans.

It is important to note that in Southern Africa, we are the first generation of humans consuming GM maize as a staple food.

GM feed affects the health of animals and may affect the humans who eat their products

Internationally, most GM crops go into animal feed. The GM industry and government regulators claim that meat, eggs, and dairy products from GM-fed animals do not need to carry a GM label because GM molecules – DNA and protein – are broken down in the animals’ digestive tracts and is not detectable in the final food product.
But this assumption is false. Studies have found:

  • GM DNA present in animal feed has been detected in milk sold on the Italian market, though the authors of the study said it was unclear whether the source of the GM DNA was ingestion by the animal or external contamination.
  • GM DNA in feed was taken up by the animal’s organs and detected in the meat and fish that people eat
  • GM feed was found to affect the health of animals that eat it. GM DNA from soy was detected in the blood, organs, and milk of goats. An enzyme, lactic dehydrogenase, was found at significantly raised levels in the heart, muscle, and kidneys of young goats fed GM soy.This enzyme leaks from damaged cells during immune reactions or injury, so high levels may indicate such problems.
  • Bt toxin protein was found circulating in the blood of pregnant women and the blood supply to their foetuses, as well as in the blood of non- pregnant women.
  • MicroRNAs (molecules that affect gene expression) of plants have been found in the blood of mammals that have eaten them and were biologically active in those mammals, affecting gene expression and the functioning of important processes in the body. While this study was not carried out on GM plants, it showed that plants that are eaten, including GM plants, could exercise a direct physiological effect on human and animal consumers.
Given the growing evidence that a diet containing GM crops can damage the health of animals, there could be risks associated with the consumption of products derived from GM-fed animals. Therefore, the argument that meat and dairy products from GM-fed animals do not need to carry a GM label cannot be scientifically justified.

Uncontrolled use of Glyphosate

Roundup, the herbicide that most GM crops are engineered to tolerate (“Roundup Ready GM Crops”), based on the chemical glyphosate, is marketed as a “safe” herbicide, based on outdated and largely unpublished studies by manufacturers. However, several countries have undertaken scientific re-evaluation of glyphosate, with some initiating partial bans.

Laborotary and epidemiological studies confirm that Roundup poses serious health hazards, including endocrine (hormone) disruption, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders.

Roundup and glyphosate have been detected in air, rain, groundwater, in people’s urine, and even circulating in women’s blood. Glyphosate can cross the placental barrier and the unborn foetus could thus be exposed. In Canada, glyphosate use has been associated with an increased risk of spontaneous and late abortions among farm-workers. Similar evidence has emerged from Argentina.

South Africa grows 2.3 million ha of genetically modified crops, 1.8 million of which is planted to genetically modified (GM) maize. 54% of the white GM maize has been genetically engineered to tolerate liberal application of Glyphosate. All of the GM soya planted in South Africa is glyphosate tolerate.

Currently, there is a complete lack of testing for glyphosate residues in Southern African market produce. This is particularly perturbing given that the GMO authorities in the South Africa have seen fit to authorize the commercial cultivation of GM herbicide tolerant crops that increase glyphosate usage, without there being any capacity development for labaratories to monitor the consequences.

GM crops do not increase yield potential – and in many cases decrease it

GM crops are often claimed to give higher yields than naturally bred varieties. But the data does not support this claim. At best, GM crops have performed no better than their non- GM counterparts, with GM soybeans giving consistently lower yields.

Controlled field trials comparing GM and non-GM soy production suggested that 50% of the drop in yield is due to the disruption in genes caused by the GM transformation process. Similarly, field tests of Bt maize hybrids showed that they took longer to reach maturity and produced up to 12% lower yields than their non- GM counterparts.

GM crops are promoted as necessary to feed the world’s growing population. But it seems unlikely that they could make a significant contribution as they do not deliver higher yields or produce more with less inputs than non-GM crops.

Climate change

Climate change brings sudden, extreme, and unpredictable changes in weather. If we are to survive, the crop base needs to be as flexible, resilient and diverse as possible. GM technology offers just the opposite – a narrowing of crop diversity and an inflexible technology that requires years and millions of dollars in investment for each new variety.

GM companies have patented plant genes that they believe are involved in tolerance to drought, heat, flooding, and salinity – but have not succeeded in using these genes to produce a single new crop with these properties.

Conventional natural cross-breeding, which works holistically, is much better adapted to achieving this aim, using the many varieties of virtually every common crop that tolerate drought, heat, flooding, and salinity.

Two kinds of GM crops dominate the marketplace:

  • Crops that resist broad-spectrum (kill-all) herbicides such as Roundup. These are claimed to enable farmers to spray herbicide less frequently to kill weeds but without killing the crop
  • Crops that produce the insecticide Bt toxin. These are claimed to reduce farmers’ need for chemical insecticide sprays.
GM crops and herbicide use: The most commonly grown herbicide-resistant GM crops are engineered to be resistant to Roundup. But the increasing use of Roundup has led to the appearance of numerous weeds resistant to this herbicide and are being advised to use increasingly powerful mixtures of multiple herbicides and not Roundup alone. All of these chemicals are toxic and a threat to both the farmers who apply them and the people and livestock that eat the produce.

Insecticide-producing GM crops: Bt insecticide-producing GM crops have led to resistance in pests, resulting in rising chemical applications.

GM proponents have long claimed that genetic engineering will deliver healthier and more nutritious “biofortified” crops. However, no such nutritionally enhanced GM foods are available in the marketplace. In some cases, GM foods have been found to be less nutritious than their non- GM counterparts, due to unexpected effects of the genetic engineering process.

Can patented GM and non-GM crops co-exist?

The use of patents for transgenes introduces various issues. In developing countries especially, instruments such as patents may drive up costs, restrict experimentation by the individual farmer or public researcher while also potentially undermining local practices that enhance food security and economic sustainability. In this regard, there is particular concern about present IPR instruments eventually inhibiting seed-saving, exchange, sale and access to proprietary materials necessary for the independent research community to conduct analyses and long term experimentation on impacts.

Experience has shown that “coexistence” of GM and non-GM crops rapidly results in widespread contamination of non-GM crops. This not only has significant agro ecological effects, but also serious economic effects, damaging the ability of organic farmers to receive premiums, and blocking export markets to countries that have strict regulations regarding GM contamination.

Contamination occurs through cross-pollination, spread of GM seed by farm machinery, and inadvertent mixing during storage.

Farmers face new liabilities: GM farmers may become liable for adventitious presence if it causes loss of market certification and income to neighboring organic farmers, and conventional farmers may become liable to GM seed producers if transgenes are detected in their crops.

Alternatives to GM

Many authoritative sources, including the Report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which is approved by the Namibian Government, have found that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger and climate change, because better alternatives are available.

These go by various names, including integrated pest management (IPM), organic, sustainable, low-input, non-chemical pest management (NPM) and agroecological farming, but extend beyond the boundaries of any particular category. Projects employing these sustainable strategies in the developing world have produced dramatic increases in yields and food security.

Strategies employed include:

  • Sustainable, low-input, energy-saving practices that conserve and build soil, conserve water, and enhance natural pest resistance and resilience in crops
  • Innovative farming methods that minimise or eliminate costly chemical pesticides and fertilizers
  • Use of thousands of traditional varieties of each major food crop, which are naturally adapted to stresses such as drought, heat, harsh weather conditions, flooding, salinity, poor soil, and pests and diseases
  • Use of existing crops and their wild relatives in traditional breeding programmes to develop varieties with useful traits
  • Programmes that enable farmers to cooperatively preserve and improve traditional seeds
  • Use of beneficial and holistic aspects of modern biotechnology, such as Marker Assisted Selection (MAS), which uses the latest genetic knowledge to speed up traditional breeding. Unlike GM technology, MAS can safely produce new varieties of crops with valuable, genetically complex properties such as enhanced nutrition, taste, yield potential, resistance to pests and diseases, and tolerance to drought, heat, salinity, and flooding
Organic and low-input methods improve yields in Africa

There seems little reason to gamble with the livelihoods of poor farmers by persuading them to grow experimental GM crops when tried-and-tested, inexpensive methods of increasing food production are readily available. Several recent studies have shown that low-input methods such as organic can dramatically improve yields in African countries, along with other benefits. Such methods have the advantage of being knowledge-based rather than costly input-based. As a result they are more accessible to poor farmers than the more expensive technologies.

A 2008 United Nations report, “Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa”, looked at 114 farming projects in 24 African countries and found that organic or near-organic practices resulted in a yield increase of more than 100 percent. In East Africa, a yield increase of 128 percent was found. The Foreword to the study states: “The evidence presented in this study supports the argument that organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and that it is more likely to be sustainable in the long term.”

Organic and low-input methods improve farmer incomes in developing countries

Poverty is a major contributory factor to food insecurity. According to the 2008 United Nations report, “Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa”, organic farming has a positive impact on poverty in a variety of ways. Farmers benefit from:

  • cash savings, as organic farming does not require costly pesticides and fertilizers;
  • extra incomes gained by selling the surplus produce (resulting from the change to organic);
  • premium prices for certified organic produce, obtained primarily in Africa for export but also for domestic markets; and
  • added value to organic products through processing activities.
These findings are backed up by studies from Asia and Latin America that concluded that organic farming can reduce poverty in an environmentally friendly way.
A recent study found that certified organic farms involved in production for export were significantly more profitable than those involved in conventional production (in terms of net farm income earnings). Of these cases, 87 per cent showed increases in farmer and household incomes as a result of becoming organic, which contributed to reducing poverty levels and to increasing regional food security.   

Conclusion

GM crop technologies do not offer significant benefits. On the contrary, they present risks to human and animal health, the environment, farmers, food security, and export markets. There is no convincing reason to take such risks with the livelihoods of farmers when proven successful and widely acceptable alternatives are readily and cheaply available. These alternatives will maintain the independence of the food supply from foreign multinational control and offer the best insurance against the challenges of climate change.

The Namibian Organic Association requests the Namibian Government to

  • follow other African countries and protect the nation against the importation and production of GMO staple foods, based on the potential health risks as reported by leading, independent scientists. Instead, the country needs to increase its own Non-GMO production of maize as a staple food and animal feed for our growing poultry industry
  • require mandatory labeling for all imported processed products which may contain GMO ingredients
  • prohibit GMO trials in the country, based on the fact that GMOs cannot be recalled once it is in the environment.
  • to support proven strategies that improves yields and food security as identified in the IAASTD report which includes integrated pest management (IPM), organic, sustainable, low-input, non-chemical pest management (NPM) and agroecological farming.
  • to build capacity and establish through appropriate policies and programmes, an environment  conducive to the development of the Namibian seed industry in order to increase seed accessibility, the availability of improved seed varieties, particularly drought tolerant and early maturing varieties, and safeguarding genetic purity and variation in crops.
In Namibia, we love our land and we love our people. We need farmers with sustainable, resilient farming systems based on technology which can respond to climate change effectively and which can produce ample quality and safe food for the nation without being hampered by patented seeds from multinational corporations.

Technological advancement in agriculture is critical. Conventional biotechnologies, such as breeding techniques, tissue culture and cultivation practices are readily accepted and used.

However, the application of modern biotechnology outside containment, such as the use of GM crops is much more contentious.

GMOs are not merely an extension of the breeding we have known to date and there remains no scientific consensus on the long-term safety of the technology. Therefore, the international organic sector, rejects GM technology based on the “Precautionary Principle”, which allows organisations and governments to reject new GM events if they suspect possible harm.

The major producer of GMOs, the United States, is not party to this Protocol. Their position is that GM and non-GM crops are “substantially equivalent”. Much of the world does not agree, with GMOs being banned, severely restricted or strictly labelled in over 40 countries around the world.

The Namibian Organic Association is opposed to genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture, in view of the extraordinary danger it represents for the entire biosphere and the particular economic and environmental risks it poses for organic producers.

Genetically Modified Organisms:

  • Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods
  • Leads to unacceptable threats to human health as it can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
  • Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
  • Do not increase yield potential in all cases
  • Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
  • Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
  • Have mixed economic effects
  • Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
  • Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
  • Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.
  • Violate farmers' fundamental property rights and endangerment of their economic independence
Supporters of GMO technology claim that genetically modified (GM) crops:

  • Do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops
  • Are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops
  • Are strictly regulated for safety
  • Increase crop yields
  • Reduce pesticide use
  • Benefit farmers and make their lives easier
  • Bring economic benefits
  • Benefit the environment
  • Can help solve problems caused by climate change
  • Reduce energy use
  • Will help feed the world.
  • However, a large and growing body of scientific research and on-the-ground experience indicate that GMOs fail to live up to these claims.
  • Instead, conventional plant breeding, in some cases helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant crops that can meet our present and future food needs.
Human Health

GM foods are not properly tested for human safety before they are released for sale. In Namibia, maize is a staple food, and imported maize products from South Africa contain high levels of GMO.

The international regulatory regime for GM crops and foods is too weak to protect consumers from the hazards posed by the technology and scientists are now reporting a growing number of studies that examine the effects of GM foods on laboratory animals and livestock. Effects include toxic and allergenic effects and altered nutritional value, which raise serious concerns regarding the safety of GM foods for humans.

It is important to note that in Southern Africa, we are the first generation of humans consuming GM maize as a staple food in the entire world. So should we be careful? Of course.

Uncontrolled use of Glyphosate

Glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup, which is currently sold in Namibia, is a herbicide that is used in with various applications. Many GM crops are engineered to tolerate Roundup (“Roundup Ready GM Crops”).  It is marketed as a “safe” product,

However, studies confirm that Roundup poses serious health hazards, including endocrine (hormone) disruption, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders.

Roundup have been detected in air, rain, groundwater, in people’s urine, and even circulating in women’s blood.  GM crops, increase the usage of Roundup which means we not only have GM on our plates, but also more glyphosate.

Can patented GM and non-GM crops co-exist?

The use of patents for transgenes introduces various issues. Contamination occurs through cross-pollination, spread of GM seed by farm machinery, and inadvertent mixing during storage.

This means, farmers face new liabilities:

  • Conventional farmers may become liable to GM seed producers if transgenes are detected in their crops.
  • GM farmers may become liable for adventitious presence if it causes loss of market certification and income to neighboring organic farmers
Are Namibian farmers prepared to face these liabilities? There are numerous international cases where this became a reality in farmer’s lives.

Alternatives to GM

Many authoritative sources, including the Report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which is supported by the Namibian Government, have found that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger and climate change, because better alternatives are available.

These go by various names, including integrated pest management (IPM), organic, sustainable, low-input, non-chemical pest management (NPM) and agroecological farming.

Organic and low-input methods improve yields in Africa

A 2008 United Nations report, “Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa”, looked at 114 farming projects in 24 African countries and found that organic or near-organic practices resulted in a yield increase of more than 100 percent. In East Africa, a yield increase of 128 percent was found.

Conclusion

GM crop technologies do not offer significant benefits. On the contrary, they present risks to human and animal health, the environment, farmers, food security, and export markets.
There is no convincing reason to take such risks with the livelihoods of farmers when proven successful and widely acceptable alternatives are readily and cheaply available.

The Namibian Organic Association requests the Namibian Government to

  • follow other countries and protect the nation against the importation and production of GMO staple foods, based on the potential health risks as reported by leading, independent scientists. Instead, the country needs to increase its own Non-GMO production of maize as a staple food and animal feed for our growing poultry industry
  • require mandatory labeling for all imported processed products which may contain GMO ingredients
  • prohibit GMO trials in the country, based on the fact that GMOs cannot be recalled once it is in the environment.
  • to support proven strategies that improves yields and food security as identified in the IAASTD report
  • to build capacity and establish through appropriate policies and programmes, an environment  conducive to the development of the Namibian seed industry in order to increase seed accessibility, the availability of improved seed varieties, particularly drought tolerant and early maturing varieties, and safeguarding genetic purity and variation in crops.
In Namibia, we love our land and we love our people. We agree that technological advances need farmers with sustainable, resilient farming systems based on technology which can respond to climate change effectively and which can produce ample quality and safe food for the nation without being hampered by patented seeds from multinational corporations.

GMO Resources

GM Education

African Centre for Biosafety

GM Watch

Non-GMO Project

Union of concerned scientists

Label GMOs

Institute for Responsible Technology

Publication

Inform yourself. 'GMO Myths and Truths' is an evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops.

Download the publication here

2013-06-gmo-myths-truths-1

The Biosafety Act, No. 7 of 2006

The Biosafety Act, No. 7 of 2006, provides measures to regulate activities involving the research, development, production, marketing, transport, application and other uses of genetically modified organisms and specified products derived from genetically modified organisms. It establishes a Biosafety Council and defines its powers, functions and duties. It also makes provision for incidental matters.

Download the Act...

The Research, Science and Technology Act, No. 23 of 2004

The Research, Science and Technology Act, No. 23 of 2004, provides for the promotion, co-ordination and development of research, science and technology in Namibia. It establishes the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology and the National Research, Science and Technology Fund. It also makes provision for incidental matters.

Download the Act...