The African Center for Biotechnology (ACB), South Africa’s consumer watch dog organization, has lodged an official complaint with the South African Advertising Authority (ACA) regarding a radio ad sponsored by Monsanto.
The ad, http://oppt-sa.wikidot.com/monsanto:monsanto-advertising-on-radio-702-2013-07-31-09h05; offers false and misleading claims to the South African consumer as follows: “8 billion people by 2025, How will we feed them all. GM Crops enable us to produce more food sustainably whilst using fewer resources. GM crops and foods are strictly regulated and have been extensively researched and tested for safety GM crops provides a healthier environment saving on pesticides and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions while increasing crop yields substantially. Read more about the safety and benefits of GM crops visit www.monsanto.com”.
Monsanto has a history of false and misleading ads in South Africa, including an advertisement that was placed in the “YOU” magazine, (a popular South African household magazine). In this ad Monsanto claimed that “no negative reactions” have ever been reported in GM food.
This lead to the fist complaint filed by a South African organic farmer with the ACB and ACA against Monsanto’s false and misleading advertising claims. The farmer, (Mr. Wells), in his complaint submitted numerous independent studies conducted on GM foods since its commercialization, calling Monsanto’s statement into question. The Honourable Judge King presided over the complaint on behalf of ASA, and upheld Well’s complaint, arguing that Monsanto’s claim was unsubstantiated and ordered its withdrawal with immediate effect. Judge King also ruled that the advertisement ‘may not be used again in its current form until new substantiation has been submitted’.
Six weeks later Monsanto issued a media statement announcing that the ASA had accepted its ‘GM is Safe’ advertisement”, and that a revised version had been accepted to the effect that “no substantiated scientific or medical negative reactions to GM foods have ever been recorded.” A second legal challenge to the advert was launched, with Judge King (who presided over the initial ruling) stating that, despite the amended wording, the overall communication remains the same, and therefore found Monsanto guilty of breaching his previous ruling.
With its latest complaint the ACB is requesting that Monsanto is banned from advertising in South Africa in any capacity.
A copy of the correspondence by ACB’s Director Mariam Mayet to the ACB is available below.
The Advertising Standards Authority
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org <http://email@example.com>
1 August 2013
Re: Complaint against Monsanto’s misleading, false and unsubstantiated advert on Radio 702, 31st July 2013 at 09 05.
We write to you from African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), a non-profit organisation (NPO No: 57324 Registration No: 2004/025137/08), based in Johannesburg. We provide authoritative, credible, relevant and current information, research and policy analysis in issues pertaining to food and agriculture in South Africa, with special reference to the application of modern biotechnology in food agriculture.
2. We have listened with great interest to the Monsanto advertisement http://oppt-sa.wikidot.com/monsanto:monsanto-advertising-on-radio-702-2013-07-31-09h05 <http://oppt-sa.wikidot.com/monsanto:monsanto-advertising-on-radio-702-2013-07-31-09h05> aired on Radio 702 on 2013-07-31, 09h05. We are greatly taken aback by the false claims made by Monsanto to the following effect: that GM crops reduce the use of pesticides, produce higher yields, produce foods sustainably and reduce greenhouse gases. The exact wording of the advertisement is as follows:
“ 8 billion people by 2025, How will we feed them all. GM Crops enable us to produce more food sustainably whilst using fewer resources. GM crops and foods are strictly regulated and have been extensively researched and tested for safety GM crops provides a healthier environment saving on pesticides and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions while increasing crop yields substantially. Read more about the safety and benefits of GM crops visit www.monsanto.com <http://www.monsanto.com> <http://www.monsanto.com <http://www.monsanto.com”
3. We find these claims to be spurious, unsubstantiated, false, misleading and completely detached from the day to day realities of our agricultural system. We deal with these claims in turn below.
4. CLAIM MADE BY MONSANTO: GM CROPS PROVIDES A HEALTHIER ENVIRONMENT SAVING ON PESTICIDES
4. 1. To state that the cultivation of GM crops provides a healthier environment saving on pesticide use is an extra-ordinary claim to make, considering that 85% of the GM crops grown worldwide are engineered to be tolerant to chemical herbicides (glyphosate). In the United States, independent research has revealed that the introduction of GM crops resulted in a net increased application of over 144,000 tons of pesticides from 1996 to 2009. Brazil, now the world’s second largest GM crops producer, passed its biosafety law in 2005. From 2006 to 2012 pesticide sales increased by a staggering 72%, with Roundup Ready soybeans now accounting for 48% of all pesticides consumed in Brazil.
[references: Benbrook, C (2009). Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the United States: The first thirteen years. http://www.organic- <http://www.organic-> center.org/reportfiles/GE13YearsReport.pdf <http://center.org/reportfiles/GE13YearsReport.pdf>
http://aspta.org.br/campanha/transgenic-crops-push-up-pesticide-sales/ <http://aspta.org.br/campanha/transgenic-crops-push-up-pesticide-sales/> ]
4.2. We appear to be aping these trends here in South Africa. Over half of our GM maize is now herbicide tolerant and domestic glyphosate use has rocketed accordingly, from 12 million litres in 2006, to 20 million litres at present! In addition, between 2007 and 2011 glyphosate imports increased by 177%.This is particularly disturbing in the case of South Africa, as it is clear that our food safety authorities do not have the capacity to adequately monitor pesticide residue levels in our food.
[Reference: ACB (2012). How much glyphosate is on your dinner plate? SA’s food safety compromised by lack of testing.]
4.3. Cultivation of Monsanto’s GM soyabeans have increased substantially in SA. GM soya plantings have risen sharply in the last three years: from 184 000 ha in 2008, to 480 000 ha in 2011. This figure has further increased in the last 2 years and currently, 98% of all soyabean grown in SA is GM. GM soyabeans are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, a weed killer marketed by Monsanto under the brand name of ‘Roundup. GM soyabean plantations use massive amounts of glyphosate. GM soyabeans are engineered to withstand massive does of glyphosate. This is the purpose of the genetic engineering and not to reduce the use of pesticides.
4.4. Glyphosate is the ‘active ingredient’ in numerous chemically based herbicides that are used in diverse situations including in food production, timber plantations, sports fields and home gardens. Glyphosate is a water soluble, broad spectrum, non-selective herbicide that is absorbed by the leaves and transported to all parts of the plant. It works by inhibiting the enzyme enolpyruvylshikimate-phosphate-synthase (EPSPS), which is a catalyst for the production of three essential amino acids: phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. These are all vital to plant growth. As the EPSPS is present in all plant life, glyphosate affects all plants and is therefore referred to as a ‘broad-spectrum’ herbicide.
Other chemicals known as adjuvants or surfactants are added to the glyphosate in herbicide formulations. These enable the herbicide to stick to the plant’s foliage, so that the glyphosate molecule can penetrate the plant’s cells and enter its circulatory system. The most common surfactant applied in combination with glyphosate is polyethyloxylated tallowamine (POEA), which itself has been found to exert ecotoxicity, and in synergy with glyphosate, causes the formulated herbicide to be more toxic than the glyphosate alone.
4.5 A large and expanding body of scientific evidence shows that glyphosate poses a number of risks to the environment. Glyphosate is a broad- spectrum herbicide that is water- soluble. It causes damage to the soil, non-target plants and glyphosate can impact upon plants and animals in the following ways: via direct toxic effects of exposure to spray, chronic effects caused by long term exposure in the eco-system, and indirect effects due to changes in the eco-system. All of these pathways are exacerbated by the fact that a large portion of agro-chemicals never reach the intended target organism: 10-30% of pesticides applied on the ground, rising to 50-75% of sprayed pesticides. Thus, independent data as to the potential effects of glyphosate and glyphosate based herbicides (GBHs) becomes even more important.
The following list of adverse impacts is in no way exhaustive, but nevertheless raises grave concern:
• Research analyzing the impact of Roundup formulations and glyphosate itself, has shown it to have an inhibitory effect on microbial growth at lower concentrations than those recommended in agriculture. The toxic effect of glyphosate was amplified by its formulation adjuvants.
• Glyphosate is generally considered to rapidly ‘bind’ to soil particles following application in the field, therefore minimising the risk of it leaching from the soil into nearby water. However, glyphosate’s ability to bind to soil particles can vary depending upon specific chemical properties (such as soil Ph levels). It is also known that phosphate (which is used extensively in chemical agriculture as a fertiliser) plays a particularly important role in this, though further study will be needed.This could be of particular relevance to South Africa, as phosphate use is expected to increase in accordance with increased grain production within the Republic.
• Various studies have found glyphosate to: impair water intake and use efficiency, and biomass production in plants; interfere with the uptake of calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese in non HT soybeans; and contribute significantly to incidences of fungal disease.
• Glyphosate weed control programmes have been linked to increased incidences of over thirty plant diseases, in crops as diverse as apples, barley, canola, citrus, cotton, soybeans, tomatoes and wheat.
• Greenhouse studies have shown that glyphosate interferes with iron uptake even in glyphosate tolerant soybean plants. A three year field study in the USA indicated that, at rates of 2.52kg/ha, glyphosate inhibits nitrogen fixation and or simulation in glyphosate resistant soybeans.
• In greenhouse and growth chamber experiments, conventional and glyphosate tolerant soybeans were treated with glyphosate doses of 0.28 kg/ha, 1.12 kg/ha and 2.24 kg/ha. A dose of 2.24kg/ha reduced the dry shoot and root weight of glyphosate tolerant soybeans by 25-30%. A repeated dosage reduced root growth, and reduced the nodule number by between 30% and 39%.
• Glyphosateistoxictoearthworms • Glyphosate’s impact on plant (weed) diversity in areas it is used has knock-on effects furtherup the food-chain: The rapid spread of GM HT crops in the USA has contributed significantly to ‘the potential collapse’ of the ‘unique migration and overwintering biology of the eastern North American monarch butterfly’. Studies from the USA have also linked its use to declining bird populations.
The ACB has produced a publication, wherein we discuss these impacts, referencing peer- reviewed publications. The study is titled: Glyphosate in South Africa: at large and unregulated in our soil and water: http://www.acbio.org.za/images/stories/dmdocuments/Roundup-Environmental-impacts-SA.pdf
In the light of the above, Monsanto’s claims are false, misleading and unsubstantiated, as they are contradicted by empirical evidence to the contrary.
5. CLAIM MADE BY MONSANTO: GM CROPS ARE INCREASING CROP YIELDS SUBSTANTIALLY
5.1. Any farmer worth his or her salt will attest to a multitude of factors influencing yield, including soil health, seed genetics, the availability of inputs (whether chemical or organic), pest management practices and climatic conditions. Thus, correlating an increase in GM seed adoption with increased yields does not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, the latest available data from the Crop Estimates Committee shows that the average yield for this year’s maize crop is at its lowest level since 2007, despite a huge increase in adoption of GM maize in the interim.
5.2. It is instructive to look at the data from the country with the longest experience of GMOs: the United States. In the most extensive and rigorous study, the Union of Concerned Scientists analysed twenty years of GM crops and concluded that genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn are no more productive than conventional plants and methods. Furthermore, 86% of the corn productivity increases obtained in the past twenty years have been due to conventional methods and practices. Other studies have found GM productivity to be lower than conventional. A US Department of Agriculture report confirmed the poor yield performance of GM crops, saying, “GE [genetically engineered] crops available for commercial use do not increase the yield potential of a variety. The definitive study to date on GM crops and yield is Failure to Yield, by Dr Doug Gurian- Sherman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and former biotech adviser to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The study, which is based on peer-reviewed research and official US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, was the first to tease out the contribution of genetic engineering to yield performance from the gains made through conventional breeding. It is important to bear in mind when evaluating the yield performance of GM crops that biotech companies insert their proprietary GM genes into the best-performing conventionally bred varieties.
The study also differentiated between intrinsic and operational yield. Intrinsic or potential yield, the highest that can be achieved, is obtained when crops are grown under ideal conditions. In contrast, operational yield is obtained under field conditions, when environmental factors such as pests and stress result in yields that are considerably less than ideal. Genes that improve operational yield reduce losses from such factors. The study found that GM technology has not raised the intrinsic yield of any crop. The intrinsic yields of corn and soybeans did rise during the twentieth century, but this was not as a result of GM traits, but due to improvements brought about through traditional breeding. The study found that GM soybeans did not increase operational yields, either. GM maize increased operational yields only slightly, mostly in cases of heavy infestation with European corn borer. Bt maize offered little or no advantage when infestation with European corn borer was low to moderate, even when compared with conventional maize that was not treated with insecticides.
The study concluded, “Commercial GE crops have made no inroads so far into raising the intrinsic or potential yield of any crop. By contrast, traditional breeding has been spectacularly successful in this regard; it can be solely credited with the intrinsic yield increases in the United States and other parts of the world that characterized the agriculture of the twentieth century.”
[Reference: Union of Concerned scientists, “High and Dry” http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/high-and-dry-report.pdf]
If GM cannot increase yields even in the United States, where high-input, irrigated, heavily subsidised commodity farming is the norm, it is irresponsible to assume that it would improve yields in the South Africa.
5.3 A very recent study, led by Professor Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury, published in June 2013 further undermines the claim that GM crops increase yields. In this study, data on agricultural productivity in the United States and Canada (two adopters of GM crops) was compared with data from Western Europe, focusing on maize, wheat and rapeseed (canola). The main conclusions of the study were:
GM cropping systems have not contributed to yield gains, and appear to be eroding yield gains in North America compared to the equally modern agro-ecosystem of Western Europe.
Both herbicide and insecticide use trends are increasing in the US relative to achievements in Western Europe.
The US agricultural system continues to decline in agricultural biodiversity of staple crop germplasm in options for non-GM and GM farmers (a similar trend was not detected in selected European countries).
[Reference: Heinemann, J., Massaro, M., Coray, D., Agapito-Tenfen, S., Wen, J.D (2013). Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest. International Journal of Agricultural sustainability.
In the light of the above, Monsanto’s claims are false, misleading and unsubstantiated, as they are contradicted by empirical evidence to the contrary.
6. CLAIM MADE BY MONSANTO: GM CROPS DECREASE GREENHOUSE EMISSIONS
6.1. Food is a key driver of climate change. How our food gets produced and how it ends up on our tables accounts for around half of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Chemical fertilizers, heavy machinery and other petroleum-dependant farm technologies such as pesticides, contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Most studies put the contribution of agricultural emissions – the emissions produced on the farm – at somewhere between 11 and 15% of all global emissions. Most of these emissions are generated by industrial farming practices that rely on chemical (nitrogen) fertilizers, heavy machinery run on petrol, which is part and parcel of GM food production systems in SA. A major reason for Monsanto’s claims of reduction in energy use of GM crops is the no-till farming method that is used in the cultivation of GM Roundup Ready crops. The idea is that no-till reduces the number of tractor passes that farmers have to make across their fields in ploughing.
However, data from Argentina comparing the energy used in growing GM herbicide tolerant soya and non-GM soya showed that, while no-till did reduce farm operations (tractor passes across the field), the production of GM soya required more energy in both no-till and tillage systems. The reason for the increase was the large amount of energy consumed in the production of herbicides (mostly Roundup) used on GM soya.
Proven methods of reducing the amount of fossil energy used in farming include minimising the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, selecting farm machinery appropriate for each task, limiting irrigation, and using agroecological techniques to manage soil fertility and control pests.
Organic farming systems use just 63% of the energy required by chemically-based farming systems, largely because they eliminate the energy required to produce nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides.
Organic, low-input, and agroecological farming is well suited to the Global South. A study in Ethiopia, part-funded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), showed that compost can replace chemical fertilizers and that it increased yields by more than 30%. The crops had better resistance to pests and disease and there were fewer difficult weeds
GM seeds are created by agrochemical companies and are heavily dependent on pesticides and fertilizers. According to industry data, two-thirds of GM crops worldwide are herbicide-tolerant40 – in other words, they are designed to rely on high doses of herbicide.
GM crops offer no effective or sustainable solutions to climate change and claims that the cultivation of GM crops reduces greenhouse emissions are false. GM crops planted in South Africa depend on large amounts of herbicides as already discussed above, which in turn require large amounts of fossil fuels in manufacture. GM crops, like all chemically- farmed crops, also depend on energy-hungry and greenhouse-gas-emitting nitrogen fertilizer.
[References: Bindraban PS, Franke AC, Ferrar DO, et al. GM-related sustainability: Agro-ecological impacts, risks and opportunities of soy production in Argentina and Brazil. Wageningen, the Netherlands. Plant Research International. 2009. http://bit.ly/ <http://bit.ly/> Ink59c 38. Pimentel D, Hepperly P, Hanson J, Douds D, Seidel R. Environmental, energetic, and economic comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems. Bioscience. 2005; 55: 573–582. 39. Edwards S, Asmelash A, Araya H, Egziabher TBG. Impact of Compost Use on Crop Yields in Tigray, Ethiopia. Rome, Italy. Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (2007).
7. MONSANTO’S CLAIM: GM CROPS ENABLES THE PRODUCTION OF FOOD MORE SUSTAINABLY
Out of the 2,3 million ha of maize planted in South African to date, Bt maize (GM maize genetically engineered to be resistant to the stem borer) comprises 1.9 million ha. Adoption by commercial farmers of this GM maize (Bt maize) initially saw farmers enjoying increased income and savings on pesticides due to reduced losses to stem borer damage. However, in 2007, the stem borer began to develop resistance to the Bt maize. The variety in question was Monsanto’s MON 810, expressing the Cry 1Ab toxin. The Vaalharts irrigation area is currently considered to be the ‘hot spot’ of the stem borer resistance in South Africa. As a result, Monsanto paid for insecticide applications to control the stem borer. Results from extensive survey conducted in 2010 reported the presence of resistance in the South African maize region, observed over a number of cropping seasons. In some districts, farmer experienced infestation levels in excess of 50% on Bt maize, compelling them to apply insecticides to prevent economic loss. The current status is that resistance is reported from new localities on a regular basis. The Cry 1 Ab toxin has lost its efficacy against the stem borer at many localities throughout the maize producing region in South Africa, where the single gene Bt events are planted. A conservative estimate is that approximately 250 cases of Bt maize failure have been reported annually over the past years.
In order to address this failure, Monsanto has introduced a new GM maize variety –a stacked GM maize variety-comprising of 2 bt genes. However, scientists in South Africa have warned that this too, is doomed to failure and the stem borer will develop resistance to this GM variety in time. They have warned that manipulation of the environment will be met by nature’s own forces, in some cases quicker than others.
We attach a number of studies from South African academics and researchers, dealing with the issue of insect evolution, which seriously contradict Monsanto’s claims that GM crops allow for food to be produced more sustainably.
8. In the light of the above, we have come to the conclusion that Monsanto’s advertisement is grossly false and misleading and designed to mislead and misinform members of the South African public.
9. We have brought the matter to the attention of Radio 702 and have asked them to remove the ad. However, in light of this not being the first time that a member of the public has obtained relief from the ASA against Monsanto for false and misleading advertising, we believe strong action is now warranted.
10. You will recall that in February 2007, Monsanto placed an advertisement in ‘You’ magazine wherein it claimed that ‘no negative reactions have ever been reported’ in relation to GM food. This led to a complaint being submitted to yourselves, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of South Africa by Mr Mark Wells, an organic farmer in the Eastern Cape. Mr Wells brought to your attention, numerous independent studies conducted on GM foods since its commercialisation, calling Monsanto’s statement into question. The Honourable Judge King presided over the complaint on behalf of ASA, and upheld Well’s complaint, arguing that Monsanto’s claim was unsubstantiated and ordered its withdrawal with immediate effect. Judge King also ruled that the advertisement ‘may not be used again in its current form until new substantiation has been submitted’.
11. Undaunted, barely 6 weeks later, Monsanto issued a media statement announcing that the ASA had accepted its ‘GM is Safe’ advertisement”, and that a revised version had been accepted to the effect that “no substantiated scientific or medical negative reactions to GM foods have ever been recorded.” A second legal challenge to the advert was launched, with Judge King (who presided over the initial ruling) stating that, despite the amended wording, the overall communication remains the same, and therefore found Monsanto guilty of breaching his previous ruling.
In light of the above, we are respectfully seeking the following relief: that Monsanto be banned from any form of future advertising in South Africa.
We are happy to furnish you with additional documentation should you require as we have been engaged with the GMO issue in SA for close onto a decade.
Kindly acknowledge receipt hereof.
African Centre for Biosafety
With thanks to Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB