Director General of the Department of Science and Technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, says that the South African economy is profiting well from the use of biotechnology in crop production.
Between 1998 and 2013, he says, economic gains from genetically modified crops amounted to R21,5-billion. In 2013 alone, there were gains of R4,2-billion.
“In 2014, South Africa was growing more than 2.7 million hectares of GM crops,” he continues. “About 86% and 90% of maize and soya produced, respectively, are GM. Cotton is 100% genetically modified.”
Findings in the second round of the Public Perceptions of Biotechnology in South Africa survey show that a large number of South Africans are aware that they consume GM food, and that they are fine with it.
“There are significant proportions that are in favour of a particular attitude, a significant proportion [that are] against, and a significant third… that just doesn’t know enough about biotechnology,” says Mjwara.
Despite widespread controversy on the topic, he says, GM crops are perfectly safe for consumption, and any roadblock to them can burden countries desperate for food.
“This controversy contributes to extreme precautionary approaches by some countries, resulting in increased regulatory burdens and delays, with associated development costs, timelines and risks that have limited the number of countries adopting the technology - including countries in Africa,” he says.
To this end, the Department established a dedicated Public Understanding of Biotechnology Programme, seeking to fight misconceptions that have no basis in scientific findings.
Unfortunately, it says, it has been unable to deal with inaccuracies in some misleading media reports.