22 February 2013

Namibia: GMO Maize Slipped Through, but Not Illegal - Namib Mills

Windhoek — Namib Mills, one of the leading local millers accused of distributing maize containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) said some seeds containing GMOs must have slipped through from producers.

Namib Mills' Managing Director, Ian Collard, said they are dealing with a lot of maize on a daily basis and do not have control over what comes in. "There are no control measures in place and the law (Biosafety Act) is not yet in place, thus it is not illegal at this stage," Collard said. However, he said they are doing everything in their power to convince producers not to use GMOs in their production.

As an incentive, they pay a GMO-free premium to producers, in order not to supply the milling company with GMO maize. "By the way we have done remarkably well compared to other countries. Our product tested the lowest. If we test water today, will it be completely clean?" Collard asked. According to him, Namibia is actually ahead of the legislation, citing the little presence of GMOs in Namibian produce. Collard said the agriculture ministry must get the necessary controls in place, so that similar situations can be avoided.

The Namibia Consumer Trust (NCT) had recently sent samples of three maize-based products for testing in a lab at the University of the Free State in South Africa. The tests revealed Ace Instant porridge contains 56.82 percent GM maize, while the popular White Star maize contains 2.75 percent GM maize, and Top Score maize meal contains 1.09 percent GM maize. The trust also charged that unsuspecting consumers were being charged at least an 8 percent "GMO-free premium" on maize products under the pretext that the maize brand does not contain any GMOs.

With regard to the GMO-free premium charged, Collard said the premium is not and has never been passed on to consumers since it was introduced three years ago. He said the only increases on maize were due to market related factors and not due to the GMO-free premium. "The eight percent GMO-free premium is charged on maize and not on maize meal. They (the Namibia Consumer Trust) have not made that clear. So we are not passing on the GMO-free premium to the consumer at all," Collard maintained.

Namib Mills now plans to conduct their own tests on all their maize products and promised to get the next harvest of maize "clean". Moreover, the agronomic industry is operating under an agreement it refers to as the 'marketing agreement' through which the price of maize is fixed.

Attempts to get response from Bokomo Namibia, another miller also implicated, proved unsuccessful. Bokomo Namibia's chief executive officer, Dirk van der Linde, responded via email stating: "The Board of Directors is responsible for a response on these issues. They will communicate with the media and will most probably do a media release soon on the subject."

Genetically engineered crops have created a world-wide controversy since their introduction in global agricultural practice in 1996, and at least 40 countries worldwide have banned, restricted or strictly labeled such foods due to uncertainty pertaining to their long-term impact on humans, animals and the environment. Through the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to which Namibia is party, the country is supposed to have some form of control over the presence and use of genetically modified foods and other products.

The Cartagena Protocol is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, also taking into account risks to human health.

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