GENET archive


REGULATION & FOOD: Public interest drives debate on modified crops in South Africa

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Business Day, South Africa

AUTHOR: Linda Ensor


DATE:   01.08.2007

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CAPE TOWN — SA had to adopt a ”cautious” approach to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to protect the public interest, Parliament’s environmental and tourism committee chairman Langa Zita stressed yesterday.

Zita opened the committee’s public hearings on the safety of GMOs and the lack of mandatory labelling of GMO foods.

The hearing provided a public platform for a renewed outbreak of the raging debate between proponents and opponents of the use of GMO products.

Proponents included biotechnology and agricultural research institutes and GM crop production companies, while a host of NGOs voiced their opposition.

Zita stressed that Parliament would ultimately adopt a resolution arising out of the public hearings which were not, therefore, simply an ”academic exercise”.

SA’s GMO legislation, which dates back to 1997, was amended this year.

Biowatch director Leslie Liddell said SA’s regulation of GM crops or products ”fell far short of the caution required in dealing with a new technology with unknown long-term risks for humans and the environment”.

The GMO Amendment Act promulgated this year was deficient, Biowatch said, because it perpetuated the weak regulation of genetically modified crops.

”The act continues to make it discretionary — not obligatory — for the regulator to take account of public objections and input when permitting GM crops.

”The regulator is also not obliged to consider environmental impact assessments or the potential socio-economic impact of GM crops.”

Another shortcoming of the current legislation was that it did not address the compulsory labelling and traceability of GM crops and ingredients.

This undermined consumer choice and prevented users from protecting themselves against liability.

No GM food in SA met the criteria for mandatory labelling.

”Existing legislation favours the GM industry at the expense of consumers and farmers who choose the non-GM or organic option,” Liddell argued.

Several organisations, such as the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering, called for ”mandatory and meaningful labelling of foods containing or derived from genetically modified techniques”.

It should also be possible to track the use of GMO goods ”from farm to fork” and environmental impact assessments should be mandatory for GM crops.

On the other hand, agricultural analyst Hans Lombard dismissed the ”fear-mongering” campaign of anti-GMO activists.

He noted that GM production was expanding at an unprecedented rate.

He said last year SA planted 1,4-million hectares of GM crops, 180% more than in the previous year.

Already 50% of the maize crop, 92% of cotton and 75% of soya was genetically modified.

Environmental affairs and tourism deputy director-general Fundisile Mketeni said the department was assessing the environmental risk of the contained use of GMOs and was monitoring GMOs released into the environment.

The department was also actively participating in a process to develop standards to preserve the identity of GMOs produced in SA. Mketeni stressed that developing an effective management framework for GMOs was the ”main priority for building public confidence”.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Reuters

AUTHOR: Wendell Roelf


DATE:   31.07.2007

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa is resisting labelling its genetically modified foods because of fears it could raise prices and make food less available for consumers, a senior health official told the country's parliament on Tuesday.

The country, Africa's economic powerhouse and one of the few on the continent to accept genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they are popularly known, does not currently require that the modified foods be labelled.

But pressure is growing on the government to consider doing so amid a growing debate over their use. Supporters say that GMOs could help solve many of Africa's food problems, while critics say they are an experiment that puts millions at risk.

"If we had to label the foodstuffs, we have to determine the costs and benefits of it. Would it increase food prices and, therefore, decrease the accessibility of that foodstuff for a vast majority of people ?" Renusha Chanda, an assistant director in South Africa's department of health, said in a presentation.

However, Chanda added that the government believed that all GMOs currently on the South African market were safe, making labels unnecessary.

The government is considering changing GMO legislation and has heard appeals from environmentalists and farmers for tighter controls to halt the import and creation of such crops.

Zimbabwe, Zambia and several other nations have banned GMOs, saying that they could mix with indigenous crops.

Chanda said that more studies and research were needed to determine the costs and benefits of labelling GMOs. They are only mandatory when they include genes from fish, animals and humans or when they differ substantially in nutritional content.

The amount of South African land devoted to genetically modified crops was 1.4 million hectares in the 2006/2007 growing season, a 180-percent increase over the previous year.

One million hectares was devoted to maize cultivation, the staple diet of the majority of the country's 47 million people, with the remainder allocated to soybean and cotton.



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