GENET archive


POLICY & REGULATION: South African GMO Authority rejects GM bulbs and flower application

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   15.08.2007

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The South African GMO Authority, the Executive Council (EC), established under the GMO Act has refused the first ever application for experimentation of GM bulbs and flowers outside a laboratory facility.

According to the applicant, Afriflowers, a plant breeder, the Executive Council was not satisfied that adequate safety information had been furnished to justify the approval.

If granted, Afriflowers would have been permitted to grow for the first year, approximately 10 000 genetically modified bulbs and flowers involving hybrid lines, Ornithogalum dubium x thyrosoides, genetically engineered to resist the Ornithogalum mosaic virus. The experiments were meant to take place in a 10 x 6 meter shade/virus netting structure.

The ultimate beneficiary targeted by this type of experimentation is the lucrative horticulture industry, which is geared towards the export of cut flowers. Approximately 95 % of South Africa’s cut flowers are exported to the Netherlands.

Ornithogalum dubium, also known as the Sun Star, is a perennial bulbous flowering plant of the family Hyacinthaceae and is native to South Africa (Cape Province). Ornithogalum thyrsoides, commonly known as the wonder-flower and star-of Bethlehem, occurs in the Northern and Western Cape Provinces and its distribution extends from Namaqualand to Caledon.

Although Afriflowers is the named applicant, the Agriculture Research Council (Roodeplaat) is responsible for the transformation.

This is the third ’contained use’ application turned down by the EC in the past year. Earlier, two contained use applications involving GM sorghum had been turned down on biosafety grounds. This year, ARC’s application to field test GM cassava was turned down.

It is not clear whether Afriflowers will resubmit its application. If it does, the public may be kept in the dark, as the GMO Act does not require the public to be informed of contained use applications.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   16.08.2007

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The Executive Council acting under the Genetically Modified Organisms Act has rejected out of hand, an application by Biological Control Products SA (Pty) Ltd, to test in open water sources, a genetically modified mosquitocide. The mosquitocide has been genetically engineered to destroy mosquito larvae.

The GM mosquitocide is a recombinant filamentous, nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium, Anabaena sp. Strain Pasture Culture Collection 7210, genetically engineered to express the cry4Aa, cry11Aa and p20 genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringeinis subsp. Israelensis (Bti). The GM mosquitocide also contains nptll, which confers resistance to neomycin.

The transformation appears to have been done at the Ben Gurion University in Israel.

The Executive Council found the application to have been fundamentally flawed because the intended release is a ‘listed activity‘ in terms of Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations made in terms of the National Environmental Management Act. This means that the applicant is required to follow the procedures set out in the EIA regulations, including procedures relating to the possibility of conducting an environmental impact assessments and following procedures for proper public participation.

In addition, the Executive Council raised several biosafety concerns relating to non-target organisms and the inadequacy of the containment measures proposed by the applicant. It also found the safety assessment data by the applicant to be woefully inadequate.

If the application had been successful, the mosquitocide would have been released in water bodies in Bushbuckride, Limpopo Province, South Africa.

Civil society groups are urged to engage with any fresh application submitted by Biological Controls Product to test the system and demand that a full EIA be conducted. A first for GMOs! in South Africa.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Business Daily Africa, Kenya

AUTHOR: Zeddy Sambu


DATE:   20.08.2007

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20-August-2007: Farmers are protesting the introduction of a new law that will allow mass production of genetically modified crops and animals.

The farmers want the Bio-safety Bill, which is set for debate in Parliament shelved until its impact on agricultural production costs is assessed.

Despite detailed consultations that led to the publishing of the Bill, the farmers say their views were largely ignored.

Industry experts say the Bio-safety law move will bring more efficiency in agricultural production as a source of food and income generation. The Bill, if enacted, will see the establishment of a Bio-safety authority.

”It will give an internationally recognised Bio-safety framework within which to tap the enormous benefits of biotechnology, ” said Mr Simon Gichuki, head of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute’s (Kari) bio technology centre.

Biotech solutions lead to higher yields and improved crop resistance to pests and diseases, enhancing food security.

According to Kari, diseases and abiotic factors such as drought, soil pH and poor plant and animal genotypes hamper profitable agricultural production in the country. Biotechnology programmes offer real opportunities to overcome them.

Kenya is one of the eight demonstration countries implementing their National Biosafety Frameworks (NBF) under a United Nations Environment Programme fund.

Being one of the African countries with a high level of scientific capacity in biotechnology, commercial use of the products that have already been developed will be made possible by the new law.

The bill was approved last September by the cabinet together with a Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy. Despite lack of a legal framework, Kenya has in recent years applied an interim system for use and handling of biotechnology products.

To date, five approvals for research and development and six others for confined field-testing have been granted under the auspices of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Most investments in biotechnology in Kenya have been in the field of agriculture.

The debate on agricultural biotechnology in many African countries pit proponents who see it as a panacea to low yields against critics expressing attendant human health and environmental concerns.

”The proponents point to the successes of the technology in the USA while the opponents look to the crises that have been witnessed in Europe,” says Prof Patricia Kameri Mbote, an associate professor of law at the University of Nairobi.

In Kenya, biotechnology development is taking place within the context of policies governing agriculture, health, trade and environment. One big obstacle, however, is conservative consumer preference especially in the area of food.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: Daily Nation, Kenya

AUTHOR: John Mbaria


DATE:   15.08.2007

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Mr Mbaria writes on the environment for The EastAfrican.

AS WE ALL SIT GLUED TO THE melodramatic antics of politicians, another very determined lot has been working tirelessly to ensure that the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) they have patented get a foothold in the country.

In a subtle manner, giant biotechnology companies have been telling everyone that theirs is only a novel undertaking to ensure that hunger and famines are wiped out from the country.

And they know where to go, for they have targeted underpaid scientists and gung-ho politicians ready to do their binding without raising a question.

Even before MPs had come to back a haphazardly drafted Biosafety Bill, 2005, they were taken on a trip to Makatini, South Africa’s GM-capital, in May.

And ever since they came back, they have been waxing lyrical about GM products, with Muhoroni MP Ayiecho Olweny and his Mwea counterpart Alfred Nderitu publicly vowing to ensure GM crops are not only raised but also become part of Kenya’s commercial agriculture.

BUT WHY SHOULD THESE MPs be careful of publicly supporting GM crops? For one, most of us are not even aware of what genetically modified crops are’ nor are scientists sure of their safety.

By definition, GM crops are those in which ’alien’ material (or genes) have been introduced either for the sake of giving them in-built ability to fight off pests or to make them tastier, more productive or even able to withstand such weed-killing chemicals as Roundup.

But our MPs ought to seek to understand not only actual and possible implications of planting and eating these crops, but also the hidden agenda of the giant biotechnology companies which jealously guard patents on these crops.

Pro-GM scientists say no food is 100 per cent safe, and that because of the heated reactions they have been attracting throughout the world, GM foods have now undergone thorough testing and are, therefore, probably safer than traditional foods.

While Kenya does not have evidence to counter that assertion, it is curious that most countries in the European Union are not keen to embrace GM foods.

The US and Canada may be growing these crops, but there, GM maize is not cultivated to be milled for ugali but to feed livestock, besides generating bio-fuels. Further, it remains unclear why the West is never keen to support the cultivation of GM wheat, which is a major staple there.

Those who have followed the matter closely say the Biosafety Bill is a product of a ”boardroom” process rather than an all-inclusive one involving farmers, students, biology teachers, scientists, civil society, and other interested Kenyans.

Scientists and MPs have not told the country who sponsored both the drafting process and the trip the MPs took to South Africa in May, and how all these activities fit in the ongoing developments fit in with Kenya’s seed market.

It is of utmost importance that we treat the Biosafety Bill with the seriousness it deserves. I am not saying everything in the Bill is awful. For one, it introduces the National Biosafety Authority, charging it with a host of regulative responsibilities. It also sets up a biosafety committee to be peopled by some of the best scientific brains in the country.

But it is fashioned as if the question of whether or not the country ought to embrace GM foods is no longer a consideration.

Further, it is silent on such biosafety issues as how to handle outbreaks of viruses leading to the foot-and-mouth disease or birdflu that have recently led to total annihilation of millions of cattle and chicken in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

IT IS ALSO SILENT ON HOW TO deal with the safety of imported pharmaceutical products, or on whether the National Biosafety Authority ought to investigate the safety of food and seed aid to Kenya.

Lastly, there is evidence that companies eager to manufacture vaccines and other drugs have been testing them in Africa. Although this has proved disastrous, the Bill offers no solution.

This is dangerous. The Nigerian government has taken Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, to court over the deaths of unspecified number of children following the 1996 trials of Trovan, an unapproved anti-meningitis drug in the Kano area.

Who will save us from such evils if our MPs and scientists rush to embrace laws that are not suited to our welfare?

                                  PART 5

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SOURCE: Blackwell Publishing

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   20.08.2007

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The first all-African genetically modified crop plant with resistance to the severe maize streak virus (MSV), which seriously reduces the continent’s maize yield, has been developed by scientists from the University of Cape Town and PANNAR PTY Ltd, a South African seed company. The research, published in Plant Biotechnology Journal represents a significant advance in African agricultural biotechnology, and will play an important role in alleviating Africa’s food shortages and famine.

Dr Dionne Shepherd, lead researcher explains, ”MSV is transmitted to maize by small insects called leafhoppers. The disease is therefore a result of a complex interplay between the plant, the virus and insect. Factors that can influence the severity of the disease include the age at which the plant is infected (the younger the plant, the more severe the infection), the maize variety (some are more susceptible than others), and environmental conditions.

”We have created an MSV-resistant maize variety by genetic engineering, using an approach known as pathogen-derived resistance. This means that a gene from the viral pathogen is used to protect the plant from that pathogen. We mutated a viral gene that under normal circumstances produces a protein that is essential for the virus to replicate itself and inserted it into the maize plant’s genome, creating genetically modified maize. When the virus infects one of these transgenic maize plants, it displays a significant delay in symptom development, a decrease in symptom severity and higher survival rates than non-transgenic plants.”

The next stage of the research involves field trials to ensure that the transformed crop is digestible, that the protein is not an allergen and that it will be ecologically friendly to other organisms within the environment. Following the results of these trials, the crop will be monitored over a number of growing seasons before it is made accessible to local farmers.


Notes to editors:?1. The article referred to is:

’Maize streak virus-resistant transgenic maize: a first for Africa’ by Dionne N. Shepherd, Tichaona Mangwende, Darren P. Martin, Marion Bezuidenhout, Frederik J, Kloppers, Charlene H. Carolissen, Adérito L. Monjane, Edward P. Rybicki and Jennifer A. Thomson. ?Plant Biotechnology Journal, Online Only, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2007.00279.x

To view the article free on Blackwell Synergy click here

2. To request an accompanying image email

3. For more information, contact Dionne Shepherd, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa. ?Email:

4. Plant Biotechnology Journal is an international journal published in association with the Society for Experimental Biology and the Association of Applied Biologists. For more information visit the journal homepage:

5. About Wiley-Blackwell?Wiley-Blackwell was formed in February 2007 as a result of the merger between Blackwell Publishing Ltd. and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.’s Scientific, Technical, and Medical business. Together, the companies have created a global publishing business with deep strength in every major academic and professional field. Wiley-Blackwell publishes approximately 1,250 scholarly peer-reviewed journals and an extensive collection of books with global appeal. For more information on Wiley-Blackwell, please visit or



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