CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Ironically, on a continent beset with starvation, most of it man-made, the newest and most pressing controversy is not “hunger,” but whether genetically engineered foods should be used to alleviate the problem and pave the way to a brave new world of food production and consumption.
Genetically engineered, or GE, foods are those whose DNA makeup has been intentionally altered to produce allegedly beneficial characteristics. Critics charge, however, that GE foods are harmful to both consumers and the environment.
Are GE foods “biological serfdom” – one more cog in the emerging dominance of the U.S. and the West in the developing world? Are multinational seed companies jeopardizing the future of the world’s food chain by spawning “Frankenfoods” to the four corners of the earth? And if GE products are so safe, why is there so much secrecy surrounding their use and development, and why are they so strictly monitored?
The answers depend on whom one asks.
The U.S., Canada, Argentina and China account for about 99 percent of the world’s GE production, with Australia and South Africa filling the other 1 percent. The EU, Latin America, most of Asia and Africa have blocked GE products from their markets. To date, over 40 billion meals containing GE foods have been consumed worldwide.
Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, whose confiscation of white farms in that nation has led to wide-scale hunger, has blocked the use of GE food relief from the U.S., which is locked in an ongoing battle with the European Union over granting access to EU and worldwide markets for GE foods. In a legal sense, the importation and acceptance of GE foods into Africa would strengthen the U.S. case against the EU at the next World Trade Organization court hearing on the issue. In Africa, U.S. biotechnology is widely viewed as its most important strategic weapon in the 21st century.
Malawian dockworker Siswe Nbele told WorldNetDaily that his nation is facing hunger because of a “famine that could have been prevented.”
“The IMF told our government to sell off all of our grain reserves to help make loan payments. Can you imagine this?” he asked WorldNetDaily.
“Hasn’t anyone ever heard the story in the Bible of Joseph saving up grain for the coming famine in Egypt? Now our people are facing real hunger. I have come to South Africa to find work. And that work is now, ironically, to unload GE food relief from ships from America. Malawi will have no choice but to accept GE foods now. When people are desperate, they will accept anything – a dictator, food, sterilization – you name it.”
In 1999, the EU instructed Malawi to privatize its grain reserve. With little capital of its own, the Malawian government had to borrow heavily to support its agricultural sector.
Many South Africans are upset about the way that their nation has been used as a “Trojan horse” for the introduction of GE foods.
Iman Zulu, a South African farmer from Natal told WorldNetDaily, “Man was not meant to manipulate nature in this way. Man is not supposed to play God. We Zulus believe that our God, Unkulunkula, the God of the Bible, is angry with mankind for using technology in this way. Judgments come in the form of erratic weather, floods, famine, hunger, AIDS, violence, greed and evil leaders.”
Cape Town bio-engineering student Chris Phillips told WND, “The young people in South Africa need to speak out about the future of GE foods. I have this recurring nightmare of scientists aboard the international space station furiously trying to grow new crops and seeds because mankind has destroyed the food chain. Maybe water-efficient organic farming is the safest route to food security.”
One major South African nongovernmental organization, Biowatch Trust, has filed suit at the Pretoria High Court to unearth secrets about South Africa’s GE food program.
In 2001, the South African government issued more than 120 permits for genetically modified crops. That is a large increase since 1990, when the apartheid regime issued a single permit. In 2002, the ANC government of South Africa approved $18 million for research and development on GE crops. South Africa is the only nation on earth to approve of the use of GE white maize. The ANC has refused to put GE labels on related products, claiming the labeling program would be costly and hard to enforce. The ANC has also formed a partnership with multinational seed giant Monsanto.
Monsanto recently held a news conference in Cape Town, in which the company’s business relations director for South Africa, Willie Maree, shocked the South African public by telling them they had been consuming genetically modified food for the past five years. Maree cited margarine, ice cream, fish paste, eggs, meat and milk, among other items.
Biowatch is seeking information about the types of GE foods being grown, consumed and distributed in South Africa. Details of where GE crops are being produced also are being sought. Biowatch feels it is acting in the best interests of the South African public and has expressed concerns about human health issues and the environment. It cites “Terminator Seed Technology” as endangering the economic future of small-scale South African farmers.
Biowatch often points to a U.S. GE experiment gone awry in which an insecticidal protein was accidentally put into genetically modified maize for animal consumption and eventually made an appearance in the human food chain. No less than nine lawsuits have been filed over that incident.
Critics of GE foods claim that cross breeding will lead to “superweeds” that will be resistant to pesticides and that GE plants create increased resistance to antibiotics. Biowatch claims the AAD antibiotic marker causes increased resistance to Streptomycin and Spectinomycin, which are used to treat tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in South Africa. (Genetic engineers put “markers” in various organisms to monitor effects on plants and animals, among other things.) Antibiotic-resistant markers, say scientists, often find their way into fungi and bacteria in the soil. Marker genes, says Biowatch, are lodging in the human digestive system after consumption.
The British Medical Association has published a paper advocating the discontinuance of such markers, citing them as harmful to human health. Other anti-GE scientists claim that these markers inhibit the body’s ability to form antibodies and fight diseases. This is caused by the formation of new proteins in plants that change their properties, most importantly the amino acid structure.
GE advocates claim that increased resistance to antibiotics has more to do with over-prescription than GE foods, seeds and related factors. Cooking, say supporters, will destroy harmful properties before they are consumed by humans.
All uses, development, production and development of GE foods fall under the GMO Act Number 15 passed into South African law in 1997. Almost 6 million farmers are currently planting GE foods worldwide on over 50 million acres of land. China has spent over $100 million on GE crops annually for the past decade and is a world leader in planting GE cotton.
On the other side of the coin, Africa-Bio, a nonprofit South African group with strong ties to multinational GE producers has been waging a public-relations campaign to counter the concerns raised by Biowatch. Critics of Africa-Bio claim the group suppresses difficult issues raised by Biowatch.
However, none of the aforementioned issues, not super weeds, super insects or the alleged resistance to antibiotics, has thus far affected South Africa’s embracing of GE foods. In South Africa, tomatoes, wheat, maize, canola, cotton, apples, soy beans and other GE foods have been given approval by the ANC for GE development.
South African farmer Boetha Van Zyl told WorldNetDaily he has thus far rejected the urge to plant GE foods on his farm in the Orange Free State.
“Who knows what the effects of GE foods will be 50 years?” he asked.
“The jury is still out. It may be a modern quasi-religion, but science does not have all the answers, especially when the greedy corporations don’t even want critics to ask the most important questions. Whoever thought a life of farming would bring a lifetime of peace and contentment never faced this issue. Welcome to the ‘Brave New World.’”