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September 09, 2009

Majority of maize, cotton and soya grown in South Africa are genetically modified

by Petronel Smit

Biotechnology consultancy group FoodNCropBio reports in its annual 
project studies that 69% of maize, 92% of cotton and over 80% of soya currently planted in South Africa are genetically modified.

Insect resistance has resulted in profits of some R3-billion for genetically modified (GM) maize over the past ten years.

FoodNCropBio consultant Dr Wynand van der Walt says that 125-million hectares 
of GM crops have been grown globally in 2008.

“The positive impact on the environment and human health is evident from the 
decrease of 359 000 t of the active ingredient of pesticides used. GM maize grain has less risk of mycotoxin contamination than conventional grain. 
“None of the scare mongering allegations have materialised to date,” he explains.

South Africa started field testing cotton with resistance to bollworm in 1990 and 
received approval for commercial use in 1997. GM maize followed in 1998 and GM soya beans in 2000. 
Since 2000, some six-million hectares of GM maize has been grown and has yielded 
a cumulative volume of 23-million tons of GM grain.

Genetic modification entails changing genes that carry the codes for expressing specific traits or transferring a useful gene from one plant species to another. 
In this way, plants take on new characteristics, such as insect or disease resistance, improved oil or nutritional composition or tolerance to herbicides.

Van der Walt explains that what sets GM crops apart from conventional crops is that the GM crops and their products must 
undergo extensive biosafety assessments 
before government approval is granted for release and commercial purposes.

“Products from GM crops are substantially equivalent to the conventional, except where oil composition or nutritional value has been changed for the better. 
The overarching Genetically Modified Organisms Act, which provides for measures to promote the responsible development, production, use and application of GM organisms, sees to safety evaluations for humans, animals and the environment. 
“There exists no such proactive safety for products derived through conventional or 
organic farming,” says Van der Walt.

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