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6-Regulation: South African Parliament reopens discussion on GElegislation

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TITLE:  Report May Change Gene-Altering Act
SOURCE: The Business Day, South Africa, by Nasreen Seria
DATE:   Apr 10, 2003

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Report May Change Gene-Altering Act

Johannesburg - A REPORT will be tabled in Parliament at the end of a
conference this month on the environmental and health concerns about
genetically modified organisms. This opens up the possibility of
amendments to the Genetically Modified Organisms Act.

Neo Masithela, chairman of the parliamentary committee on agriculture,
says a consolidated report will be compiled by various working groups at
the conference to investigate the health, environmental, trade, ethical
and scientific effects of genetic modification technology.

"Without trying to preempt what will be said in the report, it may
warrant an amendment to the act."

The agriculture committee is likely to have a joint sitting with other
parliamentary committees to discuss the report before it is tabled in
Parliament, says Masithela.

The agriculture portfolio committee, which is taking the lead in
organising the conference, to be held next week, has invited
organisations both for and against genetic modification to make presentations.

Masithela is concerned that "people were being misled" by certain debates
about biotechnology in SA.

"The general debate is not guided and people are being misled. Some
people say that SA does not have a stand on genetic modification. But we
have an act that dictates how this scientific tool will be utilised,"
says Masithela.

The act legalised the use of genetically modified organisms for
agricultural production. Last year, SA produced the first genetically
modified white maize for human consumption, although the technology has
been used in other agricultural products, such as cotton and soya.

Pressure to debate the concerns over genetic modification is also
believed to have come from Parliament's environmental affairs and tourism
committee, which believes it has not been adequately consulted.

The committee's chairwoman, Gwen Mahlangu, said last year that there were
"concerns about the health and safety aspects" of the technology as well
as its impact on SA's international trade prospects.

The legislation had been rushed and public debate was needed to amend the
law, she said at the time.

One of the critics of genetic modification, the environmental lobby
Biowatch, says it wants the act to be updated in line with the Cartegena
protocol on biosafety, an international standard which aims to protect
biodiversity from the potential risks of genetic modification.

Biowatch wants stricter rules for disclosure of information about the
trade in genetically modified seeds.