public notice when gm sneaks

Submitted by turbosprout on Tue, 2008-01-08 10:56

On the 9th September 2001, while the Twin Towers were collapsing in a heap on television sets around the world, Labour Party aide, Jo Moore, penned a memo at 2.55pm UK time: "It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors expenses?".

Aside from terrorist attacks, natural disasters or world cup sporting events, other times of the year to ensure news does not get read includes Easter, Christmas and other public holidays.

Syngenta chose to publish their (obligatory) public notice to import genetically modified maize into the country on 16th Dec - the Day of Reconciliation. It's also roughly the time civil society NGO's wind up for the year, along with the rest of us consumers, and go and lay on the beach. Considering that there are only 30 days to object to the Registrar of Genetically Modified Organisisms (by 16th Jan) is this just inconsiderate timing or is their intention to place the notices so that minimal objections are received?

Actually two notices were published in the Sunday Times Business Times classified section, on separate pages probably so as not to draw undue attention to themselves.

They are both titled "PUBLIC NOTICE Commodity Clearance of Genetically Modified Maize" and should the Registrar of Genetically Modified Organisisms issue the permits it would entitle grain traders to import these particular types ("events") of GM Maize. Quantities are not mentioned in the notice so I assume that once the Registrar gives the nod, it is open hunting season and that the permits serve as a blanket authority to import any quantity the grain traders see fit. The grain will be "for use as [human] food, [animal] feed, and / or processing in South Africa".

I have objections with genetically modified food being grown or imported in SA, in general terms, without looking at the specifics of these two maize varieties. Here are a few:
- no long term studies on human or animal health have been conducted
- anti-biotic resistant marker genes have been found to pass through the human digestive system intact, leading to fears that this anti-biotic resistance can be passed on to bacteria in our own bodies as well as the environment
- genetically modifying food crops may unintentionally introduce new allergens
- crops and insects evolve resistance to gm crops rendering them ineffective
- gm crops may harm beneficial insects and wildlife
- gm food concentrates the control of the food supply in the hands of multinational corporations
- gm crops contaminate conventional crops killing a market for organic produce (try finding soya that is not tainted)
- gm seed is more expensive and could result in third world farmers getting into greater debt
- farming gm crops results in more monoculture crops which means greater vulnerability to pests and disease which could lead to a food security crisis
- patenting food is morally objectionable

Some info about the proteins contained in the maize products we'll all soon be ingesting if the Registrar issues these two permits to Syngenta:
Bt11 expresses the following proteins:
Cry1Ab - this is the protein expressed by the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis which is lethal to certain lepidoptera (Butterflies and moths). So the maize has a genetically engineered built-in pesticide, making it resistant to the southwestern corn borer, southern cornstalk borer, corn earworm, fall armyworm and common stalk borer larvae. Unfortunately it also kills Monarch butterflies.
Phosphinothricin acetyltransferase (PAT) - this protein confers tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium. So this means the fields of maize can be sprayed with this herbicide, which will wipe out weeds but not the maize.

MIR604 expresses the following proteins:
mCry3A - also a protein derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which is used to produce a built-in insecticide to control the corn rootworm.
Phosphomannose isomerase (PMI) - this protein acts as a selectable marker to check whether the genetic insertion was successful.

GA21 expresses the following proteins:
modified 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (mEPSPS) - makes the maize tolerant to herbicides containing glyphosate aka Roundup Ready. "But wait a minute isn't Roundup Ready a Monsanto product?" It turns out that Monsanto sold some of it's rights to Bayer CropScience a while back and these rights were acquired by Syngenta to access the lucrative Roundup Ready market in the US. It was also subject of a bitter lawsuit between Monsanto trying to protect it's territory and Syngenta wanting a share of the pie. The US Appeal Court awarded in favour of Syngenta in October 2007, so now Syngenta has dibs on GA21 too.

Genetic engineering is still playing Russian roulette with Nature. The truth is we are not quite sure what we are doing and what the long term effects will be on human health and natural systems. Yes there could be positive applications of GM technology, but the short-term, for-profit thinking is clouding the view of what could be an eco and health disaster. This has been demonstrated with the anti-biotic resistant marker gene that was in common use now being restricted in the EU because of fears of an anti-biotic resistant superbug developing. Studying the effect of a genetic experiment in 10 Mice and 10 Rainbow trout is hardly representative of the havoc we could wreak by letting an organism that is capable of replicating itself into the wild. A crazy experiment indeed.

Call me conservative, but I'd rather be eating what nature intended and not what a multinational company deems necessary to please its shareholders.

For comments or objections contact: Registrar: Genetically Modified Organisms; Private Bag X973, PRETORIA, 0001; Fax 012 319 6329