The Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) has reprimanded those responsible for producing and marketing maize products that a consumer lobby charged contains so-called Genetically Modified maize, despite a general ban on GMO maize.
In a telephonic interview, CEO of the Agronomic Board, Christoph Brock informed the Economist that the Board does not in any way support the production of modified maize as these substances are banned. "Who wants to eat genetically modified maize? I for sure don't want to eat it so of course the Board does not agree with such procedures," said Bock.
Bock was reacting to findings done by the Namibia Consumer Trust which revealed that three popular maize products consumed in the country, contained evidence of genetically modified maize. The enterprising trust sent samples of maize for testing in South Africa and found that Ace Instant porridge contained 56.82 % genetically modified maize, White Star Maize Meal contained 2.75% genetically modified maize and Top Score contained 1.09% genetically modified maize.
According to the chairperson of the Consumer Trust, Sandi Tjarondo, the agronomic industry is operating under an agreement referred to as the "marketing agreement" through which the price of maize is fixed and also provides for a "GMO-free premium" which Tjarondo says consumers are charged for because Namibian maize presumably does not contain GMO's since it is a "controlled crop".
"The Namibian Agronomic Board is overseeing this industry through registration of procedures and millers as well as endorsement and implementation of the agreement, thus the Agronomic Board is called upon to proactively call on the industry and use the permit system to discipline uncalled-for production and marketing of genetically modified maize in the country," Tjarondo emphasised. He said the Agronomic Board has a moral obligation to ensure that the industry refunds consumers for having been subjected to a premium fee while in actual fact, most local maize contains GMO's.
Namibia has adopted the Biosafety Act in 2006 which governs the use of genetically modified crops, feed and foods. The objective of the Biosafety Act no.7 of 2006 is to introduce a system and procedures for the regulation of genetically modified organisms in Namibia in order to provide an adequate level of protection to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking into account potential risks to the health and safety of humans and harmful consequences to the environment posed by genetically modified organisms or genetically modified products.
The act stipulates that a person must not deal with a GMO or GMO product unless the person is authorised by a permit issued under the Biosafety Act to deal in the GMO product and any person found to have contravened the act is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N$100,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 5 years, or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
According to Bock, the Act has not yet been implemented as the decision lies with the Ministry of Education. "The Board has called for the fast implementation of the Act but the procedures are very complicated at this stage so people should not blame the Agronomic Board," he said.
Bock was however not surprised at the findings as he said a few criminals existed in the industry. "Instant porridge is found in a niche market and people are free to import it from South Africa," Bock said.
The Directorate of Research, Science and Technology within the Ministry of Education, which is the implementing body of the Biosafety Act says that details of commencement of the act have not yet been gazetted therefore the act cannot operate before it has been gazetted.
South Africa is said to be the largest producer of modified crop, topping the list at 9th place in the global status of commercial genetically modified crops. The country grows genetically modified maize, soya and cotton. Over 50% of Namibia's maize is imported from South Africa.
Although some scientists have found genetically modified food to be safe, independent studies have shown that genetically modified food can cause health problems such as lesions in the gut, poor functioning of the liver and kidneys and decreased fertility, amongst others.
The Namibia Consumer Trust has embarked on further tests by sending maize cobs from Otavi to determine whether maize that has not been gown locally, comes from GMO seed.