File photo: AP Photo/Federica Narancio
Cape Town – The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has lodged an objection against Pioneer Hi-Bred’s application for field trials of a gene-silencing genetically- modified (GM) maize.

ACB said it refused to allow South African citizens and the environment to be used as “guinea pigs” for the untested and unproven technology.

Pioneer is a developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics, and provides seeds to farmers in 90 countries.

ACB said Pioneer Hi-Bred had advertised its intention to apply to South Africa’s GMO authorities for permission to conduct open field trials of RNAi, a gene-silencing GM maize. 

RNAi was coined to describe a cellular mechanism that uses the gene’s own DNA sequence of genes to turn it off, a process researchers call silencing.

The ACB lodged an objection to the trials with the GMO authorities on February4, after it had been granted a short extension period to do so.

This was followed by ACB putting out a petition to call on South African citizens to add their voices to the objection, which would be open until February18, and the signatures received would be submitted to the government on February 19.

“We are alarmed that once again the GM industry aims to test a risky product on the SA environment and its citizens, who are being targeted as recipients of an unproven technology,” ACB said.

Pioneer’s regional media liaison in Africa, Barbra Muzata, said South Africa was chosen for the trial for three reasons: it had a high-level presence of expertise in the public and private sector; it was a conducive environment for science and technological investment; and it needed high-yielding agricultural technologies.

Muzata said the end vision of the trial was to gain approval for use of the technology in South Africa and thereby contribute to increased maize yields and food production.

The ACB has argued that the risks of the trail were untested, so it was premature to allow the seeds to be approved for environmental release as they could contaminate farmers’ varieties and hence South Africa’s food supply.

ACB’s petition can be found at https://acbio.org.za/en/petition/say_no_to_open_field_trials_of_new_untested_gene_silencing_technology

Cape Times