Regulator’s blind eye of Corteva’s toxic spread: 2,4-D GM maize and agrarian extractivism in South Africa

It is incontestable that 2,4-D is extremely toxic for the environment and human health, as numerously raised and resisted by civil society for more than a decade. However, a succession of South African regulators over the years have failed to stop 2,4-D from entering our agricultural and food system, in a global context where many countries are re-evaluating the toxicity of herbicides, and setting more stringent limits of what they will permit. 

The 2,4-D Rubicon was crossed in December 2019, with the approval of three Corteva genetically modified (GM) maize varieties for commercial cultivation in South Africa. All three varieties can withstand 2,4-D, while two can withstand prevailing chemical glyphosate and another noxious poison – glufosinate ammonium – which concocts an even stronger hell-broth to spread across our land, creating an ever more vicious cycle of resistance and counter attack with ever stronger poisons.

The 2,4-D application for commercial cultivation should have triggered environmental risk assessments (EIAs) but did not. We pointed this out, but our calls on government to fulfil its mandate of oversight were brushed off by former Minister Ms Nomvula Mokoyane and incumbent Ms Barbara Creecy. However, this is not really surprising since, to date, not one EIA has been undertaken of any GM event release in South Africa. Furthermore, our requests for information regarding the status and areas targeted for the cultivation of Corteva’s varieties have also being ignored, by government and industry, as well as Corteva, which threw up the smokescreen of ”confidential business information” (CBI). 

In light of the incontrovertible evidence base of detrimental harm, what this reveals is corporate malpractice and the power the agrochemical industry has wielded over the government, which continues to abrogate its responsibility to protect our environment and our health, furthering the entrenchment of agrarian extractivism and corporate capture of our food systems. 

Tanzanian farmer with drought-affected maize ©Anne Wangalachi: CIMMYT

In this alert, African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) research and advocacy officers, Sabrina Masinjila and Rutendo Zendah, delve into the details, arguing that the lack of disclosure of information, “fuels mistrust in a process already seen as captured and untransparent, where CBI can be weaponised to cover up a lack of scientific and biosafety rigour and corporate malpractice.”  

The ACB continues to demand a ban and the phasing out of all toxic herbicides, as a prerequisite to emerge from this malignant spiral and strive towards shaping a sustainable and agro-ecologically diverse farming and food system. We reject the poisoning of our land, people and nature posed by the inequitable, extractive agricultural and agrochemical industry. 

Read the full alert here.