LUTZVILLE: Objections against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) in South Africa were made on Friday 7 October 2011 through a placard demonstration on the farm Klipheuwel in Lutzville. The USA based multinational corporation Monsanto planted experimental genetically modified maize on the farm. Lutzville is one of six experimental sites in the country. The experiment is taking place on 5 hectares of land that belongs to the Agricultural Research Council, which includes the development of drought resistant maize through the process of genetic manipulation. The Lutzville community leader and activist of the Food Sovereignty Campaign, Davine Witbooi in collaboration with the Surplus People Project and emerging farmers in the Lutzville area participated in the protest action. The protesters feel although Monsanto is saying that they have the key to increasing agricultural yields and ending hunger, the only possible outcome of the ongoing experiments of Monsanto is a deepening of hunger and control over seed and increasing social inequalities. They feel that there is no shortage of food in the world, but there is hunger as a result of social inequalities and the gap between the rich and poor.
The main aim of the protest is to recognize and encourage every individual and group’s needs and capacity for sovereignty. A person must have the right to choose whether you want to eat GM food or not. GM food is created by taking the gene of one organism like bacteria, spiders, scorpions, animals, in a laboratory, and inserting the cell of another unrelated organism like maize, soya, sorghum so that it develops certain “desired” characteristics in a very unnatural way. The influence of GMO’s on the environment, biodiversity, water, land and people’s health is in many cases unclear and in other cases horrifying. People would never allow surgery to be done on themselves where the safety of such a procedure is not clearly proven, but everyday we are eating food where the safety has definitely not been proven. The genes of the GMO can possibly be transfered to members of the same species or even to other species. This can cause problems and have an economic impact as weed resistant genes end up for example in weed. Although scientists are divided over this issue, they are agreeing on one thing: when the genes of GMO’s, whose safety has not been determined, are released into the environment, it is virtually impossible to undo or reverse. Genes can mutate with unpredictable harmfull effects. A genetically manipulated plant for example can mutate to such an extent that it drive out other plants and become a problem plant. GMO’s can compete with wild species or breed with them, which can result in the loss of indigenous species. The GMO’s may have impacts on birds, insects and soil organisms. When GM food was fed to lab rats, scientist found amongst other things that misshapen cell structures in the liver and kidneys occured, bleeding stomachs and the inability to reproduce.
Some GMO’s are manipulated to such an extent that they have insecticides as part of their composition. The seed and pollen of these plants may have a adverse impact on birds that eats the seed and insects that eats pollen and performing a pollination function. Allergenic genes can accidently be transferred to other species that people eat and can cause deadly allergies. For example the genes of the Brazilian nuts were transferred to a transgenic soybean variety. Many people have severe allergic reactions to nuts and would not expect that the genes of the nuts would be present in soya beans. Unauthorised GMO products have already appeared in the food supply chain. The maize variety Starlink, a GMO product actually only intended for animal feed, was used in products for human consumption. Genes that are resistant to antibiotics are used as “markers” in GMO products to determine if the gene transfer were successful. Concerns was raised about the possibility that these “marker genes” can be transmitted to human beings through food intake and it can cause resistance to antibiotics.
GMO’s can also have potentially negative socio economic impacts. Biotechnology is mostly used by the private sector and the markets are dominated by a few big companies. These companies register patents on the seeds and then genetically modify it. Because they have the patent for the plants, it means that no one would be allowed to plant this without their consent. This means that small scale farmers would particularly lose access to Non GMO seeds which is critical to their economic survival. In the USA some farmers land were contaminated by their neighbouring farmers who planted GMO seeds. Monsanto charged these farmers with unauthorised planting of canola for which Monsanto has a patent right, despite the fact that these seed were transferred through natural processes to the farmers land, for example through water, birds and wind, Monsanto won the case and farmers had to pay damages to Monsanto. It is clear that the community of Lutzville needs all the support which they can get.