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In the face of a food crisis and a devastating drought, South Africa is planning to relax its rigid laws over genetically modified (GMO) crops and boost imports of its staple food, maize, from the U.S. and Mexico, government officials told Reuters.

Government officials said that South Africa needs to import about 1.2m tonnes of white maize and 2.6m tonnes of yellow maize from the U.S. and Mexico.

Despite being the world’s eighth largest producer of GMO crops, South Africa has very strict regulations over GMOs. The nation requires that GMO food carry a label, strains entering the country must be government-approved and imported GMO crops are not allowed to be stored. Instead, the crops must be transported immediately from ports to mills.

Makenosi Maroo, spokeswoman at the Department of Agriculture, told Reuters that the country is planning to allow importers to temporarily store consignments of GMO maize at pre-designated facilities, to allow much bigger import volumes.

“In anticipation of the volumes expected to be imported into South Africa, the (GMO) Executive Council has approved the adjustment of a permit condition which relates to the handling requirement,” Maroo told the news agency. “There is therefore no intention to relax safety assessment or risk management procedures prescribed.”

Since U.S. crops contain a significantly higher amount of genetically modified strains, South African ports could reject suspect shipments even if the import is slightly contaminated.

The country has a “zero tolerance” policy for unapproved GMOs and only allows the cultivation of certain strains of white maize, yellow maize, soy and cotton. GMO fruit or vegetables are not allowed on the market.

However, Maroo said that the government is also considering applications to register additional GMO varieties to ramp up the maize trade between the U.S. and South Africa.

The South African National Seed Organization, which represents firms such as Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, told Reuters that there are six such applications pending approval.

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