Approval of GE Soybean in South Africa


PrintJohannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Oakland US—19 March2013—Civil society groups from South Africa, Latin America-
especially Brazil, Argentina- and the United States are deeply disturbed by the recent decision by the South African GMO authorities
to grant approval for the import into South Africa, of Dow’s genetically engineered (GE) soybean variety (DAS-44406-6). This
variety is genetically engineered to resist liberal applications of the toxic chemicals 2,4-D, glufosinate and glyphosate. Such an
approval is calculated to add weight to Dow’s applications for approvals of this GE variety for commercial growing especially in
Brazil, Argentina, and the US.

“We condemn the decision by the South African authorities. Once
again, economic interests are riding roughshod over our government’s
stewardship role to protect the health of our citizens and
environment. The decision to approve this GE soybean variety is all
the more galling in light of a current motion by the African Christian
Democratic Party before the South African Parliament, to overturn a
previous decision to allow imports of Dow’s 2,4-D tolerant GE maize
into South Africa.” said Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for
Biosafety. This GM maize has been dubbed “agent orange” maize by
the media, owing to the use of 2,4 D as an ingredient in the infamous
chemical, Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War to devastating effects.

South Africa is the largest producer of GMO foods on the African continent. According to the groups, this approval sets a dangerous precedent, and also makes a mockery of claims by the biotech industry that GE crops
result in lower pesticide use. GE herbicide resistant (HR) soybeans
currently account for nearly 50% of the global area planted with GE
crops. “The introduction of GE herbicide resistant soybeans in the
United States, Argentina and Brazil has resulted in a massive increase
in pesticide use, predominantly glyphosate,” explained Carlos
Vicente from the international organisation GRAIN. In the United
States, HR soya cultivation resulted in an additional 167 million kg
of glyphosate use between 1996 and 2011.i Between 1996 and 2011 the
amount of glyphosate used in Argentina increased 11 fold, to 237
million litres. The volume of pesticides sold in Brazil increased by
360% between 2000 and 2009.

A similarly dramatic surge in pesticide use is expected in the
Americas, but with even more severe impacts on rural communities’
health. Independent analysis from the United States has projected that
widespread planting of 2,4-D corn—if approved—could trigger as
much as a 25-fold increase in that country’s use of 2,4-D on corn,
from 2 million kgs at present to over 45 million kgs annually by
2019.iii

“Any increase in the use of 2,4-D in association with Dow’s 2,4-D
resistant corn will hit rural communities especially hard, as numerous
medical studies have linked 2,4-D and related herbicides to increased
rates of cancer and Parkinson’s disease as well as low sperm counts
in farmers, and to birth anomalies in their children,” said Dr.
Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist with Pesticide Action Network
North America. “Farmworkers and other rural residents will also be
at risk. 2,4-D has been shown to cause liver and nerve damage, as well
as hormonal disruption and is classified by the World Health
Organisation as possibly carcinogenic,” she added.

2,4-D is banned completely in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. In Canada
several provinces have restricted 2,4-D’s use. Glufosinate has been
found to negatively affect the cardiovascular, nervous and
reproductive systems in rodents and mammals.

Carlos Vicente from GRAIN in Argentina added that “the severe risks
to human and animal health and the environment posed by glyphosate are
well documented. A human tragedy is unfolding in Argentina due to the
introduction of glyphosate tolerant soya there. Peasant farmers have
been forced off their lands into large urban slums, and those left
behind have experienced dramatic increases in cancers, spontaneous
abortions and birth defects.”

“The biotech industry promised a reduction in pesticide use, but
their products have simply led to increased reliance on older and more
toxic pesticides to control the “superweeds” created by the use of
RoundUp Ready GM seeds in the first place,” noted Gabriel Fernandes
of the Brazilian organisation, AS-PTA. “The reality is that
herbicide-resistant seeds are the growth engine of the pesticide
industry’s sales and marketing strategy. These seeds are part of a
technology package explicitly designed to facilitate increased use of
and dependence on the companies’ own proprietary herbicides.”

Critics add that 2,4-D is a volatile herbicide prone to drift beyond
the field of application to damage neighboring crops and wild plants,
with potentially devastating consequences for biodiversity. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Marine
Fisheries Service found that 2,4-D is likely already having adverse
impacts on several endangered species in that country, including the
California red-legged frog, the Alameda whipsnake, and Pacific salmon,
via impacts on their habitats and prey.iv

Such is the urgency of the situation that civil society groups from
three regions have felt compelled to approach the United Nations High
commissioner on Human Rights and the Secretariat to the UN Convention
on Biodiversity for urgent intervention.

Letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Letter to General Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity