GENET archive


6-Regulation: 'Conflict of interest' in South African GMO advisorypanel

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  'Conflict of interest' in GMO advisory panel
SOURCE: Mail & Guardian, South Africa, by Yolandi Groenewald
DATE:   23 Jul 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

'Conflict of interest' in GMO advisory panel

Pressure groups opposed to genetically modified (GM) organisms say some
of the experts advising the government on permits for GM products are
guilty of conflicting interests.

Particular concern is focused on a state official, Muffy Koch, who
advises the government on whether to grant permits to companies to test
genetically modified organisms (GMOs), while consulting for the companies
during the subsequent trials.

Koch serves on a sub-committee of the advisory committee in the
Department of Agriculture that evaluates applications for permits to
release GM food crops into the environment for the purposes of field
trials. Her committee prepares a recommendation to be reviewed by an
executive council, comprising representatives from various government

Koch's company, Golden Genomics, is consulting on biosafety standards in
field trials of potatoes that are genetically modified to resist attack
by tuber moth.

She is also a member of the pro-GM "stakeholder group", AfricaBio, and
helped draft South Africa's GMO Act.

International GM pressure group GM Watch, together with other groups such
as Biowatch and the African Centre for Biosafety, view the GMO Act as
deeply flawed. "Shoddy research was done in the drafting, while the
experts involved were not independent," said Mariam Mayet, the director
of the African Centre for Biosafety.

Jonathan Matthews, co-founder of GM Watch, said many South African
advisers were too close to the GM industry to rule objectively on trials.
Other interest groups such as Biowatch have raised the same concerns.

"Koch's career raises important questions about where the lines are drawn
between regulation, lobbying and private companies," Matthews said.

He complained that owing to its lax biosafety controls South Africa's
intake of GM crops was more rapid than that of any country besides the
United States.

"The fact that our biosafety controls readily allow GM imports and GM
crop releases into the environment is no accident," he said. "It is the
result of its having been shaped from an early stage by influential
proponents of GM like Koch."

This week Koch said that her role as a consultant to GM trials and
adviser to the government in permit decisions did not involve conflicting

"I do consult on GM trials, but there are only so many expert scientists
on GM available in South Africa. That is why I am on the government's
advisory list as well," she said. "But I would never advise on a GM
product that I was consulted on, or vice versa."

She also said AfricaBio did not dictate her views.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

SOURCE: African Center for Biosafety, Biowatch South Africa
DATE:   27 Jul 2004 

------------------- archive: -------------------


Cape Town 27 July 2004. The South African government has approved a
United States funded project that will soon see genetically engineered
potatoes sprouting in six secret locations in African soil. Similar
potatoes were first grown in the United States but were withdrawn from
the market due to consumer resistance.

The announcement of South Africa's authorisation for the project was made
on Monday through a press release issued by the USAID and US Department
of Agriculture-funded International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-
biotech Applications (ISAAA). ISAAA also receives funds from a who's-who
of multinational chemical and seed companies: Bayer, CropScience,
Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Syngenta, Cargill, Dow AgroSciences and KWS

The potato project, to be run by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC),
was authorised despite comprehensive objections raised by the African
Centre for Biosafety and Biowatch South Africa.

The South African government is obliged by law to advise objecting groups
of the outcome of decisions taken on the release of genetically
engineered products. But in this instance, said the African Centre for
Biosafety's Mariam Mayet, the Department of Agriculture wanted to give
ISAAA the opportunity to first do the public relations work for ARC and
for Golden Genomics, a biotechnology consultancy run by the controversial
Muffy Koch.

Previous field trials conducted by the ARC were found by the objecting
groups to have been poorly designed, and they failed to answer key
questions regarding the efficacy and safety of engineered potato lines.

The groups received an astonishing paucity of information to prepare
their response to the application. Access to information about genetic
engineering is presently the subject of High Court litigation brought by
Biowatch South Africa against the South African Department of Agriculture.

Biowatch South Africa expressly asked that the decision on the potato
project be delayed until the High Court passes judgement in its public
interest action challenging government on the secret proliferation of
genetically engineered organisms in South Africa.

Mayet said: "We found that the scientific design of the proposed field
trials for 2005 were seriously flawed. Ecological impacts on non-target
species had only been addressed with limited scope, and key experiments
to measure transgene stability and horizontal gene flow were not carried
out. We therefore demanded that the trials be halted because they posed
an unacceptable risk to the environment."

Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of Biowatch South Africa said: "The potato
project purports to target small-scale farmers, yet socio-economic
impacts of engineered potatoes have simply not been considered. This is
unacceptable. Potatoes are an important crop to the people of South
Africa, fast becoming an important staple food."

Although the potato project is partly publicly funded, payment and usage
of up to ten patents are still to be negotiated. How can you talk about
small-scale farmer benefits on the one hand and patent law on the other,
Pschorn-Strauss demanded.

The government was intent on force-feeding unsuspecting South African
consumers with genetically engineered potatoes, Mayet said.

ARC apparently plans to commercialise GM potatoes in 2007.

To view the objections to the GM potato field trials, see: http://

For further information contact:
Vicky Stark
+27 82 786 4240
Mariam Mayet, African Center for Biosafety:
+27 11 646 06 99
Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, Biowatch South Africa
+27 22 49 23 426, mobile +27 82 4130502

                                  PART III
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Secret SA potato trials anger anti-GM groups who query benefits to
SOURCE: Cape Times, South Africa, by Melanie Gosling
DATE:   28 Jul 2004 

------------------- archive: -------------------

Secret SA potato trials anger anti-GM groups who query benefits to farmers

South Africa has expanded its experiments with genetically modified
potatoes, which will soon be grown in field trials at six secret
locations around the country.

One of them will be in the Ceres district.

The genetically modified (GM) potato is similar to one which was
withdrawn from the market in the United States because of consumer resistance.

The SA research is being funded partly by USAid, which has put $1 million
into the project and will invest another million over the next two years.

The government hopes to release the GM potato commercially in 2007.

Anti-GM groups are angry that the field trials are being expanded, as
they say the earlier trials were flawed.

Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, of Biowatch South Africa, said yesterday that
her organisation had lodged objections with the Department of Agriculture
regarding the proposed field trials.

"We got scientists from the University of the Western Cape to analyse
data from previous trials and they found it to be flawed.

"And if it was rejected in the US by consumers, why do they think
consumers in South Africa want it?" she said.

She said the GM potato project was supposed to help small-scale farmers
in Africa, yet the socio-economic impacts on these farmers had not been

Some impacts were the higher price of GM seed and licence fees. Farmers
would not be able to store seed and would become dependent on a few
multi-national seed companies, she said.

Miriam Mayet, of the African Centre for Biosafety, said the field trials
had failed to consider the impact of the GM potatoes on the South African
environment or on human health.

"There have been no environmental impact assessments done on any of the
GM crops grown in South Africa. But we're up against a multi-billion
dollar industry and a government which is fully behind it," Mayet said.

Graham Thompson, of the government's Agricultural Research Council,
confirmed that the locations of the field trials would be kept secret as
threats had been made that the GM crops would be destroyed.

"Before we release the GM potatoes commercially, we will do research on
the environmental impact on non-target insects. We are also busy with
research on the health impacts of these potatoes on laboratory animals,"
Thompson said.

He said the GM potato had been approved by the US authorities, but there
had been consumer resistance to it.

"The big chains like McDonald's felt that consumers were not ready for
it," he said.


GENET/HM: According to a now closed Cornell University web page not only
consumer resistance but also simple economics caused the failure of
NewLeaf Bt-potatoes. The price for the insecticde Imidacloprid,
registered by Bayer in the U.S. in 1995 for aphids and Colorado Potato
beattles, amongst others, was cheaper than the tech fee growers had to
pay for the Bt-technology. Monsanto did not reduce the tech fee and
consequently lost this market.



European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
E: coordination(*)
W: <>

   GENET-news mailing list