Tuesday, 30 July 2013

What is Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO’s?

During the past few weeks there have been articles in newspapers about GMO’s and the various protests staged around the world against the company Monsanto which manufactures GMO’s. A number of consumers contacted the Consumer News Namibia Magazine to find out more about the issue.
  • Are GMO’s safe?
  • Are GMOs labeled?
  • What are the impacts of GMOs on the environment?
  • How do GMOs affect farmers?

Namibia is planning on testing for GMO’s

GMO’s, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

Most commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide (weedkillers) or to produce an insecticide (to kill insects that eat them). Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit. In contrast, there is growing evidence that connects GMO’s with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.

Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. In developing countries such as Namibia where there is little or no consumer protection, the governments have largely been ignoring the problem.

Unfortunately, even though polls consistently show that a significant majority of consumers want to know if the food they’re purchasing contains GMOs, the powerful biotech lobby has succeeded in keeping this information from the public. Recently, the Namibia Consumer Trusts has sent samples of Namibian consumer products to be tested in South Africa.

Over 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs:’ which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange). GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture, and are developed and sold by the world’s biggest chemical companies. The long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment these novel organisms cannot be recalled.

Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotechnology companies have been able to obtain patents with which to restrict their use. As a result, the companies that make GMOs now have the power to sue farmers whose fields are contaminated with GMOs, even when it is the result of inevitable drift from neighboring fields. GMOs therefore pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country where they are grown, including the United States.

It is thus with great pleasure that we take note that the Namibia Consumer Trust (NCT) received an official invitation to witness the inauguration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry's Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) testing facility on Tuesday 28 May 2013. NCT informed us that they are delighted that the expert who will be doing the demonstration of how GMO testing is done is the same Professor NCT had asked to do the GMO tests on Namibian popular maize. NCT intends to continue with these tests, maybe these may be done locally in the near future. That is if the lab can also do tests for independent civil society.

With pressure from the civil society, such as the Namibia Consumer Protection Group (NCPG), Namibia Consumer Trust (NCT and the Consumer News Namibia Magazine, we hope to continue to pressure the government and state agencies to do more to ensure the foods we eat are not doing us harm in the long run. 

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