GENET archive


APPROVAL / PLANTS: South African GE cassava and sorghum fieldtrials stopped

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TITLE:  Blow for first trials of GM cassava
SOURCE: African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa & GRAIN, Spain
AUTHOR: Press Release
DATE:   20.03.2007

Blow for first trials of GM cassava

South Africa 20 March 2007- The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) and
GRAIN, congratulate the South African GMO regulatory authority, the
Executive Council, for refusing to allow the experimentation of open
field trials of GM cassava.

The Executive Council, comprising of ten officials from diverse
government departments, denied an application brought by the Agriculture
Research Council (ARC), to release GM cassava into the South Africa
environment. ARC's interest in the GM Cassava is to genetically improve
its starch content to be used as feedstock for a burgeoning biofuels market.

According to the EC, it found that ARC provided inadequate information
regarding the stability of the traits involved as well as the potential
for gene flow and thus could not conduct a proper assessment of the
risks posed by the GM cassava to the environment.

Cassava is one of the oldest cultivated crops and provides the primary
source of calories for 600 00 million people in the tropics, especially
tropical Africa.

"It is appropriate that the South African government should be concerned
about gene flow of GM cassava as it has a responsibility to small-holder
farmers all over Africa that depend on cassava to feed their families.
The narrow and misguided focus on GM cassava and biofuels will
exacerbate the destruction of biodiversity, loss of local markets, and
the contamination of farmers' varieties and wild species of cassava,"
said Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of GRAIN.

Late last year, the EC also rejected an application to conduct
experiments involving GM Sorghum. Currently, SA also has a de facto
moratorium on the approval of all new GM varieties for the purposes of
import into South Africa.

"We are cautiously watching a small but significant change taking place
in South Africa with regard to GM regulation and we will continue to
exert pressure on the South African authorities. " said Mariam Mayet of
the ACB.

Contact details:
Elfrieda Pschorn- Strauss, GRAIN +27 82 413 0502
Mariam Mayet, African Centre for Biosafety +27 83 269 4309

1. For information about the GM sorghum rejection and the de facto
moratorium, see "Africa's Sorghum Saved: Applause for Second GM
rejection" and "Is SA in the US WTO Sights Over GM Import Ban?"

2. The ACB and GRAIN have submitted comprehensive objections to the
field trials, supported by NGOs and individuals, and these can be viewed at

3. Last year, the Donald Danfoth Centre's GM virus-resistant varieties
of cassava, developed seven years ago, failed dismally when it lost
resistant to the African Cassava Mosaic Virus Disease (CMVD), see "GM
Cassava Fails in Africa"

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                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Africa's sorghum saved: Applause for second GM sorghum rejection
SOURCE: African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa
AUTHOR: Press Release
DATE:   03.02.2007

Africa's sorghum saved: Applause for second GM sorghum rejection

The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) hails the decision taken by the
Executive Council (EC)-South Africa's GM regulatory body on the 30
January 2007 to turn down an application by the Council for Scientific
and Industrial Research's (CSIR) to conduct experiments with genetically
modified (GM) sorghum in a level three containment facility. This
decision was taken against the backdrop that Africa is the centre of
origin for sorghum where (including in South Africa), a large number of
sexually compatible weeds, wild relatives strains and races of
cultivated sorghum occur.

While the EC will make its reasons for the rejection available in due
course, it previously (in June 2006) turned down a similar application
when it cited environmental concerns about gene flow from transgenic
sorghum to South Africa's biodiversity.

The ACB lodged an objection to the application and raised strong
concerns that GM sorghum would introgress into wild relatives. "Some
activities just cannot be permitted and should be regarded as NO GO
options" said Mariam Mayet, founder of the ACB. 

"The risks posed by GM sorghum to sorghum wild and weedy relatives
cannot be tolerated at all and the granting of a permit will be
tantamount to a licence to contaminating Africa's heritage. Even
containment in a level three facility will not negate the concerns that
will remain, if the GM sorghum was to be tested in open field trials
with the objective of commercialisation" said Mayet. 

This decision is a severe and final blow to the African Biotechnology
Sorghum Project (ABS), bankrolled by Bill and Melinda Gates to the tune
of millions of dollars, to bring GM sorghum to Africa's poor. The ABS is
spearheaded by a consortium, which includes Pioneer Hi-Bred
International, Florence Wambugu's Africa Harvest Biotechnology
International, Rockerfeller Foundation-backed African Agricultural
Technology Foundation (AATF), the CSIR, the Agricultural Research
Council etc. 

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