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South Africa: GM maize for biofuels

The genetic modification (GM) battlefield has been extended to biofuels production, with South Africa featuring among a number of countries that are being asked to allow the import of GM maize to make ethanol. Ethanol, made from crops such as sugar cane and maize, is attracting interest internationally as a relatively benign, renewable energy source that is cost-effective at current oil prices
Syngenta South Africa, a subsidiary of the Swiss agrochemical giant, gave notice last month of its intention to seek commodity clearance to import its GM maize, Event 3 272, into South Africa to be used to produce ethanol. GM is controlled in South Africa by the Genetically Modified Organisms Act of 1997.

Environmental lawyer Mariam Mayet says Syngenta’s Event 3 272 application is the first GM application in the world for commercial approval for a non-food (fuel) use of a food crop (maize).

The South African application is for the import of Event 3 272 maize from an unnamed country. The application is being opposed by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the Johannesburg-based African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB). The application, a precedent, gives rise to questions on how the industrial use of GM technology will be regulated, say the CFS’s Bill Freese and ACB’s Mayet.

Their objections include concerns that a growing permit still has to be issued for the country of origin, that the imported GM maize will contaminate food and feed supply, that GM remains untested technology with unclear consequences and that Event 3 272 uses a new micro-organism from the deep sea that has not been subject to adequate testing.

GrainSA will be opposing Syngenta’s application to import Event 3 272, says Fanie Brink. He suspects the new cultivar will be grown in the United States and that South African farmers will be asked to compete against a cultivar that they are not permitted to grow and the heavily subsidised US maize farmer.

“We are trying to develop a biofuels industry to help both the emerging and commercial farmer,” says Brink. “[Importing Event 3 272] goes against all these plans.”

Additional information: M&G
News date: 02/06/2006

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