Love them or hate them, genetically modified organisms, (GMO), are alive and well in modern day food system. Only a handful of consumers are aware of the ingredients in the food they consume while the vast majority are still in the dark.
Some argue they are essential to solving world hunger, while others are convinced they are slowly and silently killing us with the latter being the sentiments of Manjo Krige, Vice-chairperson of the Namibian Organic Association. Krije boldly states that GMOs are in no way good for Namibians and its environment.
With Namibia heavily dependent on South Africa for food imports, a significant percentage represent a health and environment hazard. Although a vast majority of GMOs in our food system are present in only a small number of crops, the fact that maize which is a staple food in Namibia makes the list, calls for concern according to Krige.
It goes against the Cartagena Protocol, but the country has been importing GMO maize in seed form for years which makes it difficult to cult out illegal production of GMO infused crops in the country.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement on biosafety as a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity effective since 2003.
Although the country has not legalized the production of GMO in the country, its recent move to allow import of GMO products is harmful enough, say Krige.
“Although there is research being conducted under the guise of biotechnology, there is no way at all that GMOs can be good when the health of the human and the state of the environment is put at risk. It is certainly not good for Namibia,” she said.
GMOs are a threat to organic farmers and its market. In countries like the US, GMO maize is fed to animals. Here at home were maize is a staple food; it is consumed directly by the human.
Some of these products are labelled, but consumers are unaware of their responsibility to scrutinise the labels which would afford them with ethical and honest advice and thus empowers them to make a decision or not.
“Because our bodies do not recognize this, it rejects it. This is where the allergies come from and other intolerances come in, and also taking to consideration of the glyphosate that causes cancer, she sad.
Agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto has invested significantly by advocating the GMO agenda and according to Krige, it is just a matter of time before the fever hits Namibia.
“In Namibia, Monsanto is most likely to come by first donating a lab at a university and funding students to do research on GMO. That will be an easy way of influencing government and then the rest of the job is done,” she said.
Krige adds that GMO have a lot of legalities on how they are used, but on the receiving end of the consequences are the farmer who have no control over the movement of GMO seeds. One such issue is that one is unable to replant the GMO gene without the permission of the owner.
Word around the GMO seed is that it is drought resistant and pest resistant. However, Krige highlighted that there is no evidence that points out that GMO seeds are more superior because they are not modified for that environment.
“Also, when you change a plant into a pesticide producing plant, it messes up the environment. It is easier to farm but the other effects are enormous. They call it un-intended consequences but it is an irreversible eventuality.”
“It is excellent marketing by the drivers of the GMO agenda. It is also a thing of position. In Africa, we think using technology is better and because we also don’t know enough to reject it, we will take it. And this is where the education needs to go.”
Regardless, consumers have the right to know what’s in their food. Although government is getting involved, requesting restrictions and stricter regulations in labeling, there is much to be done to educate the consumer.
It is the government’s role to protect the population that eats maze.
It is clear that GMOs are here to stay, regardless of government intervention. It is just a matter of educating consumers on how to better read labels before buying, Krige said.
Krumhuk Farm,15km south Windhoek, is home to organic farming and the establishment is known for supplying some eateries and shops with organic products, although in small quantities.
With 350 cattle head at the farm, Krumhuk produces meat, bakery, dairy and vegetable products.
Although the quantities are small, the farm has become a hotspot in the pristine savannah known for its bio-dynamic principles and housing about 90 staff who live with their families on the farm.
The farm has its own stall at the weekly Green Market in Klein-Windhoek, and here it has products are on sale.
The Patriot visited the farm this week to witness the milking in the afternoon and see the garden at the farm.
“We get about 100 liters of milk a day from 12 cows. We could go big but it is a bit expensive. One needs animal feed that do not have GMO in huge quantities. We are also limited by the lack of water,” said Verena Maasdorp.
“Obviously organic is healthy and what we do here makes us stand out. There are many entities that want us to supply them with products but our production is not that huge,” she added.
Krumhuk also has the perfect opportunity to relax, go for walks, and get to know the diverse animal life of the bush. It is a suitable base from which to explore Windhoek and its surroundings.