GENET archive


9-Misc: South African response on EU GE pharma crop project

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TITLE:  Letter re Cape Times article on GE pharma crops in South Africa
SOURCE: Cape Times, South Africa, by Glenn Ashton
DATE:   16 Jul 2004 

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Dear Editor,

Your article on the possibility of growing "pharmed" crops (Pg. 3, July
13 [see below]) in South Africa requires comment. The idea of using South
Africa as a base to produce these genetically engineered plants, altered
to produce pharmaceutically active compounds, raises several questions.

Firstly, has anybody bothered asking South Africans what they think?
There is deep disquiet about our government's robust support of
biotechnology and particularly against genetically modified (GM) food crops.

The suggestion, as set out in the article, that pharmaceutical compounds
would be engineered into food crops, is something that would be strongly
opposed by most rational South Africans, scientists and citizens alike.
Even were these to be grown in strictly contained conditions, the risks
remain excessive. Two cases of contamination of food crops by pharmed
products in the US last year nearly allowed the release of an untested
pig vaccine into the food supply, according to the journal Nature
Biotechnology. Spurious internet adverts have been posted looking for
growers for such crops and responses have reportedly been received from
South African farmers.

When and if such plant based vaccines are developed - lets not forget
this is an industry that is driven by hype and hubris and we appear to be
a long way from an AIDS vaccine in any form - they must be grown in
plants from a non- food species. Additionally such plants should be grown
outside their natural habitat to prevent any gene flow. These are the
minimum steps fundamental for a secure biosafety regime.

However it should not be necessary to use terrestrial plants at all, as
plankton and algae may prove more suitable to use and could be far more
readily contained. Production of blue green algae for food is a well-
established science and fast growth rates can be achieved. But even this
method has serious drawbacks as far as biosafety goes.

But to suggest that we are going to consider growing food crops, altered
to produce pharmaceuticals, right here in South Africa is plainly
unacceptable. We have an appallingly weak and opaque regulatory regime,
that is devised more to facilitate the introduction of GMOs than to
regulate them.

This appears to be yet another case of shifting another dirty industry to
a developing nation so that we bear all of the risks, while the northern
developers reap the genetically engineered fruits. As we have cast off
colonialism, so too must we reject the its latest iteration; bio-
colonialism. Not only does bio-colonialism hold direct threats to our
biodiversity but it equally exposes that very diversity to exploitation
by wealthy individuals, nations and corporations, leaving us, yet again,
to pick up the pieces. Remember; genetic engineering gives pollution a
life of its own!

We must firmly tell the CSIR and the John Innes Institute; thanks but no
thanks, we choose to keep pharming in containment, where it belongs; in
Europe or the USA, where suitable facilities exist. Why should we take
this risk with so little to gain?

Neither should we try to bargain for a "good deal" on this one. There is
no "good deal". South Africans should reject this entire concept with the
contempt it deserves.

Glenn Ashton


South Africa may field test first 'pharming' crop out of the way of
Greenpeace activists

July 13, 2004
[reprint from The Independent, UK, already posted at GENET-news]

London: Genetically modified plants are to be used to grow vaccines
against rabies and Aids, scientists have announced. Europe's first field
trial, announced yesterday, is likely to be carried out in South Africa
because of fears over crop vandalism in Britain. [...] However, concerns
about direct action by environmentalists opposed to GM crops has led to
the scientists behind the project collaborating with a South African
research institute that has offered to grow the first crop. [...] It is
likely that the first pharmaceuticals crop will be either GM maize or GM
tobacco that will be engineered with a set of genes for making prototype
vaccines against either HIV or rabies. [...] South Africa's Council for
Scientific and Industrial Research is participating in the research and
is particularly interested in potential vaccines against HIV, the Aids
virus. [...]


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