The parliamentary portfolio committee for science and technology was given a presentation on genetically modified crops by the managing director of Monsanto, Kobus Lindeque, on August 30, 2005.
He said that this was the 10th year that GM crops have been in “significant commercial use around the world”, and that “more than 81 million hectares were planted in 17 countries by 8.25 million farmers in 2004.”
He said that South Africa has planted GM crops for the last six years, with over 500,000ha being planted in the 2004/2005 season. Many of the GM crops are modified to be resistant to insect pests or herbicides. In some cases, the company that produces the GM seed also produces the herbicide to which it is resistant.
Lindeque cited a few examples of emergent farmers that have benefited financially from GM crops. He went on to say that Monsanto plans to “introduce a wider range of products to African farmers.”
Criticisms that have been levelled at GM crops, other than potential environmental and health effects, include the production of “suicide seeds” that will only germinate for one season. This will prevent farmers from saving seeds for replanting. Other concerns have come from the fact that very few companies worldwide produce GM seeds.
This could lead to the majority of food production in the world being tightly controlled in a monopoly situation. Around the world, other scientists are also genetically modifying plants to produce medicines, a process known as “pharming”. Vaccines could be cheaply derived from plants, and work is underway to produce anti-cancer vaccines, cholera vaccines, and vaccines that could prevent diseases in cattle.