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article imageAfrican Civil Society petitions the African Union to ban GMOs

By Anne Sewell     Dec 10, 2012 in Food
In the wake of the recent ban by Kenya on the importation of GMO products until proper health evaluation has been completed, the African Civil Society is now requesting the African Union (AU) to ban GMOs.
Digital Journal reported recently on the ban by Kenya on the importation of genetically modified products.
Following this ban, the African Civil Society has called on the AU to discuss banning all genetically modified organisms throughout the African Union at the next AU summit, set to be held in January 2013.
The African Civil Society is represented by 400 African Organizations consisting of small-scale farmers, social movements, non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups, organic producers and consumers, business people and ordinary citizens. As a group, they signed a statement, which has been sent to the Permanent Representative Council (PRC) of the AU.
In the statement, they point out the lack of safety data on GM foods, as well as condemning the patenting of life and privatization of agriculture, which will threaten to displace the control of African food producers over their production systems.
An extract from the statement reads:
We also call upon the governments of Africa to take note of our additional strong objections to GMOs. These concern the patenting of life forms and privatization of agriculture, which has led to the dependence by farmers, rural communities and indigenous people on external private and monopolistic seeds suppliers. We are also extremely concerned about the adverse impact of industrial and GM based agriculture on biodiversity and climate change. We cannot ignore the suicide epidemic of farmers in India - a direct result of farmers' dependence on GM cotton - and the resultant increased costs and unmanageable debt.
The full statement can be read here.
The group requests that African leaders address this issue at next year's Summit, which is themed “Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance”.
Elizabeth Mpofo is Chairperson of the East and Southern African Farmers Forum (ESAFF) and member of La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement. Mpofu says that, “corporate-owned, genetically modified seed won’t solve any of our problems. We have our own varieties, we have our own knowledge. We need to be supported so that we can flourish in the agricultural systems that are our heritage”.
The group's call for a ban is consistent with the Precautionary Principle, which states that "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent that damage."
A prevalent issue of concern is the long term safety of genetically modified products and their consumption, and this concern has escalated after the results of an independent study were published in the Journal of Chemical and Food Toxicology in September 2012.
Rat with mammary tumors.
Rat with mammary tumors.
The peer-reviewed study, run over the lifespan of the test rats by Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, and his research team at the University of Caen in France, found that GM maize and its related chemical, glyphosate, had a significant impact on the kidneys and livers of rats, as well as their hormonal balance, mortality rates and life spans. The rats developed cancerous tumors within the fourth month of the study.
Director of the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), Ms Mariam Mayet, explained that, “the results of this study have been discredited by scientific bodies with industry ties, but even they acknowledge that long-term safety studies do not exist and are necessary. Maize is a staple food for millions of Africans, making it imperative to ensure that it is safe in the long term”.
The statement by the African Civil Society reminds the PRC that “the African Union has played an important historical role in shaping global biosafety policy and shown admirable political will to protect African citizens. They must now show the rest of the world that GE crops can only be accepted when society is satisfied that their benefits outweigh the risks. Currently, that is not the case”.
Faustin Vuningoma, Secretary General of the PELUM Association, an African regional network representing over 200 organizations, said that its members “stand to fight for food sovereignty through securing indigenous seed rights and practicing ecological systems of agriculture that are affordable to the small-scale farmers and sustainable to feeding the masses”.
In October 2012, in the wake of the peer-reviewed study, ACB, a consumer watchdog organization, also called on South African Authorities to enact a ban on Monsanto’s tumor linked maize crop known as NK603, saying, “We urge the South African government to take the necessary steps to protect its citizens.”
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