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2-Plants: South Africa affirms guarded stance on gene crops

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TITLE:  South Africa affirms guarded stance on gene crops
SOURCE: Reuters
DATE:   Apr 22, 2003

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South Africa affirms guarded stance on gene crops

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa cannot afford to be left behind over genetically 
modified crops, but will sign up to a pact restricting their trade, the head of 
a parliamentary agriculture group said. Reaffirming the country's guardedly 
positive stance on GM crops, which differs sharply from those of its neighbours, 
agriculture and land affairs portfolio committee chairman Neo Masithela told 
Reuters that parliament would soon accede to the Cartagena bio-safety pact, 
which governs trade in GM organisms. The United States, the greatest proponent 
of GM crops, has refused to sign up to the pact requiring exporters to get 
approval from destination countries before shipping GM products. But Masithela 
said a two-day stakeholder meeting held this week, which would form the basis of 
recommendations to South Africa's parliament on the sensitive question of GM 
foods, still recognised the importance of the technology. "South Africa cannot 
afford not to be on board...GM technology is one of the tools that can assist 
South Africa in meeting food security," Masithela said in closing remarks to the 
conference, which involved both GM advocates and opponents. South Africa is the 
only country in the world to produce genetically modified white maize, and its 
relatively pro-GM stance contrasts sharply to the strong reservations held by 
the neighbouring governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, South Africa's 
grain traders are hoping that the 97 percent or so of white maize that is not 
modified, which is kept separately from the transgenic variety in silos, will 
attract a premium over GM maize, particularly in deals with the U.N. World Food 
Programme. The United Nations agency is stepping down the urgency of its 
campaign to feed some 14 million people in Southern Africa, but still needs to 
buy tens of thousands of tonnes of maize for its food aid projects. White maize 
is the region's staple. Masithela said South Africa's 1997 Genetically Modified 
Organism act would need to be modified to take into account the Cartagena 
protocol. "We must use very serious precautions in ensuring that international 
trade is not being hampered," he said.