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Manjo Smith
Chairperson
Namibian Organic Association
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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.
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