Genetically modified (GM) maize spreads beyond control in small-scale South African farming


New research article from GenØk: “Detection of Transgenes in Local Maize Varieties of Small-Scale Farmers in Eastern Cape, South Africa” by Marianne Iversen, Idun M. Grønsberg, Johnnie van den Berg, Klara Fischer, Denis Worlanyo Aheto and Thomas Bøhn

Dollarphotoclub_45612456-WEBThe article is the first to document the presence and spread of transgenes in rural agricultural communities in South Africa. The investigation combines biological data (detection of transgenes) with surveys of farmer activities like recycling/sharing of seeds and origin of seeds used. South African small-scale farmers in rural communities may acquire and use transgenic crops legally, but important management/permit regulations made for large-scale industrial productions are in practice impossible to follow in small-scale farming, both due to pollen flow and because farmers share and recycle seeds. The study demonstrates that transgenes are unintentionally mixed into local seed storages with potential ecological consequences including resistance development in pest insects.

The article was published in PLOS ONE December 31st 2014. The full article can be downloaded here

Iversen, M., Grønsberg, I. M., van den Berg, J., Fischer, K., Aheto, D. W. and Bøhn, T. (2014). «Detection of Transgenes in Local Maize Varieties of Small-Scale Farmers in Eastern Cape, South Africa” PLOS Published: December 31, 2014  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116147 Open access

Article Abstract (artikkelsammendrag)
Small-scale subsistence farmers in South Africa have been introduced to genetically modified (GM) crops for more than a decade. Little is known about i) the extent of transgene introgression into locally recycled seed, ii) what short and longterm ecological and socioeconomic impacts such mixing of seeds might have, iii) how the farmers perceive GM crops, and iv) to what degree approval conditions are followed and controlled. This study conducted in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, aims primarily at addressing the first of these issues. We analysed for transgenes in 796 individual maize plants (leaves) and 20 seed batches collected in a village where GM insect resistant maize was previously promoted and grown as part of an governmental agricultural development program over a seven year period (2001–2008). Additionally, we surveyed the varieties of maize grown and the farmers’ practices of recycling and sharing of seed in the same community (26 farmers were interviewed). Recycling and sharing of seeds were common in the community and may contribute to spread and persistence of transgenes in maize on a local or regional level. By analysing DNA we found that the commonly used transgene promoter p35s occurred in one of the 796 leaf samples (0.0013%) and in five of the 20 seed samples (25%). Three of the 20 seed samples (15%) included herbicide tolerant maize (NK603) intentionally grown by the farmers from seed bought from local seed retailers or acquired through a currently running agricultural development program. The two remaining positive seed samples (10%) included genes for insect resistance (from MON810). In both cases the farmers were unaware of the transgenes present. In conclusion, we demonstrate that transgenes are mixed into seed storages of small-scale farming communities where recycling and sharing of seeds are common, i.e. spread beyond the control of the formal seed system.