GENET archive


6-Regulation: Update on the GMO Act revision in South Africa

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  South Africa Government Seeks Law to Extend Support of GMOs
SOURCE: Reuters
DATE:   20 Jan 2006

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South Africa Government Seeks Law to Extend Support of GMOs

CAPE TOWN - South Africa cannot afford to lag behind developed nations
on genetically modified foods, a government official said on Thursday,
rejecting activist calls for stricter controls on biotechnology.

Africa's largest economy is bucking the trend on the continent as one of
the only nations to embrace the controversial gene-altering technology.
Neighbouring countries, including Zimbabwe and Zambia, have banned GMO
imports, saying they could mix with indigenous crops.

Ben Durham, director in the Department of Science and Technology, said
the government recognised biotechnology as a powerful tool to help
ensure food security.

"We will be sticking our heads in the sand if we don't look at all of
the tools that are available to mankind and select those that are
appropriate to us," he told Reuters after a presentation to parliament's
agriculture committee.

The committee is conducting public hearings on changes to legislation
governing genetically modified organisms (GMO) and has heard various
appeals from environmentalists and farmers for tighter controls to halt
the import and creation of such crops.

The GMO Amendment Bill keeps intact South Africa's policy of support for
the technology and brings the law in line with international agreements.

The Categena Protocol, amongst other things, calls for an international
biotechnology "clearing house" on research to help promote access to

Durham told the committee that biotechnology "had come of age" and was
being applied around the world.

"South Africa cannot afford not to have its own home-grown biotechnology
academic environment that can produce traits and products that are
suited to our environment and our diseases," he said.

Environmental lobby group Biowatch said the jury was still out on
genetically modified crops and the technology must be strictly controlled.

"No-one is saying that science musn't advance, that there musn't be
scientific experiments," spokeswoman Estelle Randall said.

"What Biowatch and other concerned individuals have been concerned about
is regulating a new technology that hasn't been shown beyond a
reasonable doubt to be safe for the environment and human health," she said.

The committee is expected to be approve the bill next week, after which
it will be referred to the National Assembly.

                                 PART II
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SOURCE: Biowatch Bulletin, South Africa
DATE:   Jan 2006

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Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs held
extensive public hearings on the GMO Amendment Bill in January.

Among those who made presentations to the committee were Biowatch South
Africa, small scale farmers and grain processors who expressed concern
about how the Bill deals with liability.

The Committee has met once to deliberate on the Bill since the public
hearings and will meet again on March 6. The process of finalising the
Bill is likely to take some time because of the complexity of the issues
involved and the many concerns which MPs have raised around the Bill's
capacity to properly regulate a technology which is being driven by very
powerful foreign global companies.

A wide range of organisations supported Biowatch's written submission.
The organisations are Organics South Africa, Sustainable Fruit and Vine
Study Group, The Valley Trust, Trust for Community Outreach, Southern
Cape Land Committee, Surplus People's Project, Environmental Justice
Networking Forum, Abalimi Bezekhaya, Ingwavuma Women's Centre, Bizana
Community Advice Office, Vezukukhanya Farmers' Association, Vuvuzela
Farmers' Association, Madonela Cotton Farmers' Association, KwaNgwanase
Farmers' Union, Phadima, Muslim Youth Movement, Balimi Irrigation Scheme.

In its submission, Biowatch demonstrated that the Bill fails to address
serious deficiencies in the current regulatory system for GMOs because
it: a) Severely limits public participation in decision-making and
access to information.

The Constitution entitles all South Africans to procedurally fair
administrative action and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act
sets out requirements for procedural fairness.

The essence of procedural fairness is that people affected by
administrative decisions must be given notice far enough in advance and
sufficient information about proposed decisions to enable them to make
representations to the decision-maker who must consider those representations.

The GMO Act and regulations currently fall short of these requirements
and the Bill does not remedy this.

In fact, the Bill makes it possible for the regulatory authority to
disregard public input. Current notification requirements in the
regulations also fall short because the permit applicant, not the
decision-maker, provides notification. As a result, the content of
notices is left to the discretion of the applicant and notices only have
to be placed in local - not national - newspapers.

b) Emphasises a scientific approach to risk assessment and decision-making.

This is at the expense of environmental, social and economic factors.
This reduces the likelihood that the interests of poor and marginalised
people will be taken into account when decisions are made about the use
of GMOs.

c) Provides insufficient guidance for assessing and regulating GMO activities.

In particular, the circumstances in which a risk assessment,
environmental impact assessment or socio-economic assessment would be
required are not specified and no criteria are provided against which
these assessments may be reviewed.

d) Entrenches self-regulation by the GMO industry.

The Bill allows GMO permit applicants to submit risk assessments without
independent review. Applicants are also given the responsibility for
monitoring their own compliance with permit conditions. Given the
substantial economic interests at stake in the industry, this self-
regulatory approach is highly inappropriate.

e) Places liability for activities involving GMOs on users - producers,
distributors and suppliers of GMOs are let off the hook.

This approach to liability produces unjust results, particularly for
consumers and small-scale farmers, in the light of the existing Act's
failure to provide protective measures such as compulsory labelling and
testing of GMOs.

This approach is also a reversal of the conventional rules of liability
in terms of which the producer or developer of a product bears the
primary risk because of the substantial economic reward it stands to
receive once the product is in use.

In addition, it is inconsistent with the polluter pays principle that is
entrenched in the National Environmental Management Act of 1998.

f) Is silent about compulsory labelling of GMOs.

This undermines consumer choice, prevents users from protecting
themselves against liability and impedes the monitoring of human health
impacts associated with the use of GMOs.

g) Lacks tools for imposing rehabilitation obligations on defaulting
permit holders.

This is inconsistent with the polluter pays principle in the National
Environmental Management Act of 1998. The Bill also fails to grant
powers to the Executive Council (the decision-maker) to suspend or
withdraw permits in the event of non-compliance with conditions.

h) Fails to provide for the incorporation of the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety into South Africa's regulatory system in several substantial areas.

This is despite South Africa's obligations to do so, as a signatory to
the Protocol.

In particular, the Cartegena Protocol's crucial precautionary approach
is not adopted in decision-making. In essence, the precautionary
approach says that, in the absence of definitive data proving the
benefits and safety of something, we should assume the potential
problems are real and address them accordingly.

To read Biowatch's full submission please go to our website

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

SOURCE: Biowatch Bulletin, South Africa
DATE:   Jan 2006

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The Department of Agriculture is failing to adequately implement the
existing flawed regulatory system for genetically modified (GM) crops in
South Africa.

This emerged from Biowatch South Africa's recent examination of a sample
of GM permits and permit applications.

The sample (of 134 permits and 108 permit applications and review
documents) is part of a larger batch to which the Department of
Agriculture has given Biowatch South Africa access.

This follows the Pretoria High Court's order in February 2005 that
Biowatch South Africa be granted access to information about how
decisions are made in the granting of GM crop permits.

From an examination of the sample it appears that there are: *No written
reasons for why permits have been granted. Reasons for granting permits
have not been given to objectors to the permit applications. Nor are
they contained in permit conditions or letters from the regulatory
authority and permit applicants. This is despite a statement from the
Registrar of Genetic Resources that reasons for decisions taken by the
regulatory authority would be captured either in permit conditions or
letters from the regulatory authority and the permit applicant.

- No meaningful interaction with objections to permit applications
before decisions are made about granting permits. At best some questions
are posed to the permit applicant and the Registrar acknowledges receipt
of objections.

- No communication of decisions to grant permits is conveyed to permit
application objectors. This makes a mockery of any right to appeal on
decisions of the regulatory authority and falls foul of the GMO Act
which says that an aggrieved party is entitled to be notified of the
regulatory authority's decision and may appeal that decision within 30
days of receiving the notification of the decision.

- No independent risk assessments. The only risk assessments used to
make decisions appear to be those submitted by permit applicants.

- No guidelines for risk assessments. In several instances, applicants
have used conclusions of research conducted abroad and there appears to
have been no independent verification of these in terms of local conditions.

- No guidelines for environmental impact assessments and none carried
out to date. This is despite the regulatory authority having the
discretion to ask for an environmental impact assessment.

- No independent socio-economic impact analyses of GM crops.

                                 PART IV
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TITLE:  Religious groups worried about GM foods
SOURCE: The Mercury, South Africa, by Wendy Jasson da Costa
DATE:   19 Jan 2006

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Religious groups worried about GM foods

South Africa's faith communities are planning to petition major food
retailers to label all genetically modified foods, according to Bishop
Jeff Davies from the SA Council of Churches.

The labelling of GM, or genetically modified, food is not compulsory in
the country.

"We believe it is essential to know what we are eating. We hope you, in
parliament, will help us," he told members of parliament on Wednesday.

Davies was one of many representatives from religious and civil society
organisations, including small-scale farmers, environmental groups and
lobbyists, who participated in parliament's public hearings on its
Genetically Modified Organisms Amendments Bill.

Davies told MPs that although he, like the government, supported
biotechnology it was necessary to affirm the precautionary principles in
the Bill.

"Many scientists and biotechnologists are very naughty," he said.
"They're not making a distinction between selective breeding, which
human beings have been doing for millennia, and genetic engineering."

He said all faith communities - Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims -
had the same concerns regarding genetically modified products.

"With genetic engineering, we are tampering with the structures of life
that have taken millions of years to evolve and we have the arrogance to
think that we can improve on them in 10 years... to transfer a gene from
one species into another."

Referring to the impact of GMOs on religion Davies said: "You know we
have kosher and halaal food. How, then, do we define a tomato with a
fish gene?"

He said he knew that many people were concerned about genetic
modification because humans were playing God without knowing what the
consequences would be.

He also called for a moratorium on the use and importation of
genetically modified food until SA itself had tested the products and
not just accepted the word of Monsanto - one of the world's biggest
providers of genetically modified seed - that it was safe.

According to Davies, many people, especially those in the business
community, would "deride" environmentalists for their concern, but he
said it was important that "we should do things the African way and not
try to emulate Big Brother in America".

Pick 'n Pay's deputy chairperson David Robins welcomed the call for
labelling on Wednesday, saying the supermarket chain would support the
campaign 100% so that customers would know what they were eating.

Robins said Pick 'n Pay had not "critically investigated" every item on
its shelves to determine whether it contained GMOs, but soya was a
product that would not qualify.

Earlier this week, chain store Woolworths said: "All Woolworths products
that contain ingredients that could be derived from GM crops are
labelled. The ingredient in question is marked with an asterisk which,
in turn, refers to a statement at the bottom of the ingredient label
that reads as follows: "*May be genetically modified".

The group said it had undertaken to remove or replace ingredients
derived from GM crops wherever possible.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig

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