The potential changes to the EU’s policy on the cultivation of new genomic technique crops, or genetically engineered (GE) crops, will have implications for global agriculture, including the South African market, the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) said yesterday. Photo: File
The potential changes to the EU’s policy on the cultivation of new genomic technique crops, or genetically engineered (GE) crops, will have implications for global agriculture, including the South African market, the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) said yesterday. Photo: File

EU’S relook at genetically engineered crop policy could affect SA - Agbiz

By Given Majola Time of article published May 4, 2021

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DURBAN - THE POTENTIAL changes to the EU’s policy on the cultivation of new genomic technique crops, or genetically engineered (GE) crops, will have implications for global agriculture, including the South African market, the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) said yesterday.

Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo said, from a economic perspective, countries that have embraced GE crops had experienced lower insecticide use, more environmentally friendly tillage practices and crop yield improvements.

“On the last point of yield gains, an improvement in EU grains output would add pressure on global grain prices. Another essential aspect would be increased competition for major grains-exporting countries, such as the US, Ukraine, Argentina, Russia, Brazil, Canada and South Africa, amongst others (in the case of maize),” said Sihlobo.

Agbiz said the EU was re-evaluating its policy against GE crops.

Sihlobo said that on April 29 the European Commission released a study on new genomic techniques.

He said the passage that hinted at a potential change of heart read: “The study has confirmed that new genomic techniques products have the potential to contribute to sustainable agri-food systems, in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy. Any further policy action should aim at enabling new genomic techniques products to contribute to sustainability while addressing concerns. At the same time, new genomic techniques applications in the agricultural sector should not undermine other aspects of sustainable food production - for example, organic agriculture.”

According to Agbiz, the European Commission would spend the next few weeks consulting and sharing the study results with its member states before drafting a final view on the policy.

“Notably, the study points out that respondents to the consultation thus far have expressed diverse, sometimes opposite, opinions regarding the level of safety of new genomic techniques and their products and on the need and requirements for risk assessment. This suggests that there could still be a strong lobby group against the change of the current EU policy on this new genetic engineering technology,” said Sihlobo.

GE was one of the most controversial issues in global agriculture.

Sihlobo said much of Africa, except for South Africa, and the EU had generally opposed the cultivation of GE crops. On the other hand, the US, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Paraguay were among the countries that have embraced GE crops.

The arguments against adopting GE crops included concerns about food sovereignty, doubts about their health aspects, and their potential impact on biodiversity.

Agbiz said that with regard to the yield benefits of GE crops, there was compelling evidence of the increase in yields in South Africa, which produces nearly 20 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s maize, using a relatively small area of an average of 2.5 million hectares since 2010.

Sihlobo said that in the 2019/20 production season, South Africa produced 19 percent of the region’s overall maize output of 79 million tons.

“In contrast, Nigeria planted 6.5 million hectares but only harvested 11.7 million tons of maize, which equates to 15 percent of the sub-Saharan region’s maize output, according to the International Grains Council,” Sihlobo said.

Agbiz said in a world of rising population and increasing competition for land use, producing more in a smaller area seemed an economically and environmentally important decision.

Sihlobo said, however, national policies, in the case of Africa, had to consider the economic conditions of farmers.

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