South Africa Says No To GM Potatoes, But GM Corn, Soy, Cotton Are OK

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Written by Dana Sanchez

South Africa has rejected genetically modified potatoes for commercial production, raising questions about a double standard that allows GM corn, cotton and soy to be grown and sold there, IndependentOnline reports.

Field trials in South Africa began 12 years ago on the SpuntaG2 — a potato genetically modified to produce a toxin that kills the potato tuber moth.

The genetic engineering was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with the University of Michigan and the Agricultural Research Council, a public entity that is  South Africa’s principal agricultural research institution.

In 2009, a South African intergovernmental body cited biosafety, health and socio-economic concerns when it turned down an application by the Agricultural Research Council to release the GM potato commercially.

The Agricultural Research Council appealed the decision. Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana turned down the appeal, ending the 12-year push to get the potatoes on the market.

The move was welcomed by the anti-GM lobby, but raised questions about government double standards. GM corn, cotton and soybean are grown commercially in South Africa using the same gene as the rejected potatoes to produce a bactericidal protein, IOL reports.

Genetically modified potatoes would place an unnecessary burden on potato farmers — especially small-scale producers — to keep them separate from conventional potatoes, Zokwana said.

Controlling the tuber moth is not a high priority, said Mariam Mayet, head of anti-GM group, African Centre for Biosafety. Studies show that the GM potato would not benefit large- or small-scale farmers, Mayet said.

The government hasn’t been concerned about keeping GM corn, soy or cotton separate from non-GM crops, according to the report.

“It does raise questions about the South African regulatory regime,” Mayet said. “They don’t apply the same standards for all crops. Why do they allow this in maize?

“Everybody that writes to us to say it’s great about the GM potato decision, says: ‘But what about maize and soya? Why does government allow them?’”

Each GM application is treated on a case-by-case basis, government spokeswoman Bomikazi Molapo said. “The decision on the GM potato did not set any particular precedent for current or future GM crops.”