Potatoes South Africa (PSA) has indicated it will appeal against the application by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in which the council asks for permission to release a GMO potato, SpuntaG2, onto the market on a commercial scale.
PSA fears consumer resistance and a possible negative impact on exports that might result from a GM cultivar in SA. requested that before the general release of a GM cultivar is approved, mandatory labelling of GM potatoes be implemented so that consumers can choose to purchase GM or non-GM potatoes. has also demanded the development of a testing system for the reliable tracing of GM potatoes, to make identification possible.
“We would like to see wide public participation and input, taking into account the opinion of the retail, processing and the fast food industries,” said Dr Ben Pieterse, manager for research and development at PSA. “The timing of this application is unfortunate, as this is the year of the potato, where we focus on improving the potato’s image to consumers.”
The GMO SpuntaG2 has better resistance to tuber moth, said Gurling Bothma, a researcher at the ARC. “We are surprised by PSA’s reaction, as we have had several discussions with them on this issue,” Bothma said. Field trials have been conducted for the past six years, funded by USAid. “Normally GMO patents fall into the hands of multinational agricultural companies, but the SpuntaG2 is firmly in our hands, including all safety management aspects,” said Bothma.
“This is a unique opportunity for SA.” It’s also the first time that a GMO product has been developed in SA, from the initial concept, right through to the stage of commercial release.” – Wouter Krie
Limpopo drought relief hangs in the balance
Farmers in Limpopo have waited in vain for over a year for drought relief promised by the provincial Department of Agriculture. According to Agri Lephalale, many have given up hope and sold their livestock at whatever prices they could in a bid to survive. Conditions reached critical levels after the dry summer of 2006/07, particularly in the winter of last year.
Those who could afford it bought feed, but emerging and small commercial farmers could either watch their cattle die, or sell them at discount prices, says the local farmers’ union. “When the Department of Agriculture declared the province drought-stricken some farmers decided to hang on until help arrived. In some cases farmers incurred debt to keep the core of their herds intact,” Agri Lephalale spokesperson, Elana Greyling notes.
Funds were eventually greenlit in October 2007 and applications were considered in December. Early in January 2008 farmers were notified of successful applications and the tender process among feed suppliers commenced. In some districts officials were preparing depots for distribution by March. BBut the financial year ended before relief money was spent and the funds had to be returned to national government. N ow a spokesperson for the MEC said they are trying to obtain the funds at national level. In the meantime the relationship between farmers and the department has been seriously damaged.
“A long dry winter lies ahead and a number of farmers are already supplementing feed for livestock,” Greyling laments. “With current stock prices it will be impossible for a number of them to recover, not only from the drought, but from the department’s broken promises.” – Piet Viljoen