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9-Misc: South Africa wants to advice SADC GMO committee

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TITLE:  INTERVIEW - Southern Africa to share info on GMO crops
SOURCE: Reuters, by Toby Reynolds
DATE:   June 16, 2003

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INTERVIEW - Southern Africa to share info on GMO crops

JOHANNESBURG - Southern African countries want to start sharing information
on genetically modified (GMO) crops to help formulate policy towards the
controversial technology, South Africa's science minister said.

Transgenic crops are at the centre of a worldwide debate on whether
scientists should change the genetic code of living organisms. The United States
citing a so-far unblemished safety record, promotes their use while the European
Union advocates a more cautious approach.

Regional food shortages requiring massive aid donations brought the debate
to southern Africa, where only South Africa allows farmers to grow a few
approved GMO crops, including regional staple maize.

Neighbours Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi all expressed concerns
about accepting donations of genetically modified maize, although all but
Zambia later relaxed their opposition and allowed GMO grain to be used if was
milled to prevent farmers planting it.

"It is quite clear that the SADC (Southern African Development Community)
countries need expertise in this field," South African Science and Technology
Minister Ben Ngubane told Reuters, referring to GMO crop policy.

He said countries from the 14-member regional political bloc were setting up
a group to share expertise on transgenic modifications.

"It is more than a committee...more like a council of science ministers," he
added on the sidelines of a meeting of science ministers from the
Commonwealth group of countries. "We are already getting that through the SADC

Mentioning insect-resistant transgenic crop varieties such as Bt cotton, and
the potential for using genetic modifications to enhance the nutritional
value of crops, Ngubane said South Africa, the economically dominant member of
the group, hoped to share some of its scientific expertise with other SADC

But he said his country's approach would be cautious. "We want the benefits,
we don't want to experiment in an adventurous way," he said.

Many analysts think the GMO debate is taking on an increasingly
trade-related tone, with scientific arguments falling by the wayside.

In May, the United States threatened to sue the European Union under World
Trade Organisation rules unless Brussels ended an unofficial ban on the import
or use of all but a handful of genetically modified organisms.

GMO detractors in the scientific world say there are risks that transgenic
traits could spread into wild populations, with unknown consequences.


 Hartmut Meyer       
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