The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has petitioned the African Union to consider a ban on the cultivation, import and export of genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa at its January 2013 summit.

The request comes at the same time the Kenyan government has banned genetically modified food imports, citing insufficient evidence assuring public safety. Public health officers have already received orders to enforce the ban at all points of entry.

In a statement reportedly signed by over 400 African organizations, the ACB criticized GM foods for lack of safety information, as well as for patents and privatization that it says threaten small farmers.

ACB director Mariam Mayet spoke on a study recently published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology that showed a connection between GM maize, and organ damage and premature death in rats.

“The results of this study have been discredited by scientific bodies with industry ties, but even they acknowledge that long-term safety studies do not exist and are necessary. Maize is a staple food for millions of Africans, making it imperative to ensure that it is safe in the long term,” Mayet said in a media statement.

Joe Nzinga, regional coordinator of the Eastern and Southern African Small-Scale Farmers Forum, said the appeal comes down to food security and promoting green practices.

“In fact, the hybrid, they are failing because they are becoming too costly for small-scale farmers. Our biggest question is, why push for genetically modified food in Africa when Africa has a variety of seeds and they are doing very well with small-scale farmers?” Nzinga told www.freshfruitportal.com.

Nzinga wrote off doubts that local seeds cannot withstand drought, saying that not even GM seeds cannot withstand extreme weather conditions.

Drought-resistance, however, has arisen as a point of contention in the GM debate.

Motlasi Musi, a small South African maize farmer, told the African Inter Press Service that with GM maize, he now makes US$225 more per hectare than before.

“Biotechnology has a very big role in food security. The climate has changed and I know that with drought-tolerant seed I have a tool to fight climate change. I cannot guarantee that the rain will come and I if plant crops which are not drought tolerant, I could get into debt and lose my farm,” Musi said.

Food security has become a key point of debate, with ACB casting doubt on the ability of GM foods to maintain staple crops.