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[genet-news] BUSINESS & REGULATION: Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa states in talks to harmonise GMO regulations



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   COMESA STATES IN TALKS TO HARMONISE GMO REGULATIONS

SOURCE:  Business Daily, Kenya

AUTHOR:  Allan Odhiambo

URL:     http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate%20News/Comesa%20states%20in%20talks%20to%20harmonise%20GMO%20regulations/-/539550/1050212/-/6tx4w6z/-/

DATE:    09.11.2010

SUMMARY: "Uganda?s Agriculture minister Hope Mwesigye said on Tuesday member states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) are almost concluding negotiations that will pave way for harmonised biotechnology and biosafety regulations for the region. ?Agriculture and Environment ministers from Comesa are expected to adopt the harmonised biosafety and biotechnology regulations in 2011,? she told a regional meeting on commodity trade in Entebbe."

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COMESA STATES IN TALKS TO HARMONISE GMO REGULATIONS

Partner states of Africa?s largest market bloc could have uniform biosafety laws and regulations by next year, helping countries with a food deficit to import cheaper commodities generated through modern technology.

Uganda?s Agriculture minister Hope Mwesigye said on Tuesday member states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) are almost concluding negotiations that will pave way for harmonised biotechnology and biosafety regulations for the region.

?Agriculture and Environment ministers from Comesa are expected to adopt the harmonised biosafety and biotechnology regulations in 2011,? she told a regional meeting on commodity trade in Entebbe.

Analysts said the harmonised laws and regulations could prove a major impetus for food deficit nations seeking to either boost their productivity through modern technology input or make shipments of consignment developed through such platforms.

?This will help address the long-standing uncertainty over aspects such as planting of seeds developed through technology or trade in commodities that come up in the farms at the end of the day,? Dr Cris Muyunda, the CEO of the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (Actesa) that is driving the initiative on behalf of Comesa states told Business Daily on the sidelines of the conference.

?We want the same things to be viewed in the same scientific way,? he added.

Kenya is among Comesa countries that have in the recent past found themselves in deep controversy over the importation of genetically modified (GM) foods to help cover for local production shortfalls.

Grain market

At the peak of the famine last year, the then Agriculture minister William Ruto went public in support of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), saying the global dominance by GM maize was frustrating efforts to import the grain from key international markets to cover for local production deficit.

?We are now forced to pay a premium for normal maize because close to 90 per cent of the global grain market now comprises of GM food,? he said, claiming that the government was at the time paying an average $300 per tonne for normal maize compared to $200 per tonne paid for GM stocks.

In April, Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, an advocacy group, kicked off a storm when it claimed the South African government had authorised a firm to export 240,000 tonnes of GM maize into Kenya. The group also claimed that commodity trader Louis Dreyfus had a further 40,000 tonnes already held up in Mombasa. The government denied the allegations.

Kenya is yet to embrace the GMO concept even though a law guiding the legal and legislative frameworks on modern biotechnology is in place. the Biosafety Act 2009 was approved by President Kibaki in February last year, with the National Biosafety Committee formed as an interim measure until the law is implemented.

The committee executes its activities under the National Council for Science and Technology.

Dr Muyunda said the Comesa leadership had picked a panel of ten experts from whom partner states would seek reference on sticking issues.

?The team will purposefully serve as a reference point for any nation seeking to make clarifications on matters to do with technologically produced materials and products,? he said.

Dr Getachew Belay, a senior biotechnology advisor with Actesa, said talks on the harmonised biotechnology rules and regulations were at an advanced stage and expressed optimism for a deal by next year.

?The only issue sticking out remains around the principle of precaution in which several countries are looking on the unknown effects that could come with technology,? he told Business Daily on the sidelines of the meeting in Entebbe.

?This is not new as it has happened even in Europe where technology is big. We hope to get there,? said Dr Belay.

Europe witnessed a standoff over GMO technology after Germany announced in April last year that it would ban cultivation and sale of GM maize despite the European Union (EU) ruling that the grain is safe. The German move affected US biotech company Monsanto?s MON 810 maize.

The ban put the country alongside France, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg, which have banned MON 810 maize despite its approval by the EU for commercial use throughout the bloc.

?I have come to the conclusion that there is a justifiable reason to believe that genetically modified maize of the type MON 810 presents a danger to the environment,? Reuters quoted German Agriculture and Consumer Protection minister Ilse Aigner saying in April, while stressing that five other EU states have taken the same action. 



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   S. AFRICA URGES SWITCH TO YELLOW CORN, ASIAN MARKETS

SOURCE:  Business Week, USA

AUTHOR:  Mike Cohen & Carli Lourens

URL:     http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-11-09/s-africa-urges-switch-to-yellow-corn-asian-markets.html

DATE:    09.11.2010

SUMMARY: "?African countries use white maize and we?ve exported when there were regional shortages,? the department said in a report to lawmakers today. ?Now all African countries have good crops due to improved productivity and the white maize demand is down.? Favorable weather conditions and increased use of genetically-modified seed have resulted in bumper harvests and an over-supply in South Africa with this years? harvest expected to be the biggest since 1982 at 13.04 million metric tons."

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S. AFRICA URGES SWITCH TO YELLOW CORN, ASIAN MARKETS

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- South Africa?s government said the country should change the type of corn it plants to target markets in Asia and suggested setting up an agency to promote exports.

An investigation conducted by a team of officials from the Department of Agriculture and the National Agriculture Marketing Council recommended that South Africa ?aggressively? move toward producing more yellow corn to meet demand from Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. South Africa, the biggest producer of the grain in Africa, grows mainly white corn, locally known as maize.

?African countries use white maize and we?ve exported when there were regional shortages,? the department said in a report to lawmakers today. ?Now all African countries have good crops due to improved productivity and the white maize demand is down.?

Favorable weather conditions and increased use of genetically-modified seed have resulted in bumper harvests and an over-supply in South Africa with this years? harvest expected to be the biggest since 1982 at 13.04 million metric tons. Of that 60 percent is expected to be white corn and the rest yellow.

That has cut corn prices, eroding farmers? profits. White corn has slid 20 percent to 1,338 rand ($196) a ton this year on the South African Futures Exchange in Johannesburg while yellow corn has fallen 10 percent to 1,426 rand. In South Africa white corn is used to make corn meal, a staple food, while yellow corn is mainly fed to animals, with chicken producers Rainbow Chicken Ltd. and Astral Foods Ltd. being among the biggest buyers.

Unutilized Stock

The government has failed in its efforts to significantly cut the country?s estimated 4.5 million ton corn surplus as plans to export to Egypt, Tunisia and China were thwarted, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told lawmakers in Cape Town.

?We are intervening as government to assist these farmers? get rid of their excess corn, she said. ?We know we have a national interest to safeguard this industry.?

South Africa had 2.1 million tons of unutilized corn stocks in the marketing season through April this year, according to the Pretoria-based South African Grain Information Service, which is known as Sagis. That stockpile stood at 8.86 million tons at the end of September with two thirds of that being white corn.

Despite the setbacks the county has managed to find new markets for some of its corn in the marketing year that began May 1.

Japan, Kuwait, Spain

In that period South Africa has shipped 500,900 tons of yellow corn to nine African countries as well as to Spain, Taiwan, Japan, Kuwait and South Korea, according to Sagis. That compares with 261,338 tons in the whole of the last marketing year when shipments went to 12 African countries as well as to Iran and Malaysia.

White corn exports this marketing year have totaled 340,932 tons to 12 African countries compared with 1.42 million tons to 11 African countries in the last marketing year. This year Malawi and Zambia have declared corn surpluses. Zimbabwe?s crop is expected to rise 38 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the week ended Nov. 5 South Africa exported 1,089 tons of yellow corn to five African countries and 6,691 tons of white corn to five neighboring states, Sagis data showed.

Export pool

The government backs a request by the corn industry for the formation of an export pool to rid the country of its grain surplus, Langa Zita, the director-general of the agriculture department, said in an interview in Cape Town. The pool would separate surplus corn from that needed for domestic use.

?The decision doesn?t lie with us, it?s with the Competition Commission,? he said. ?We wouldn?t want going forward to say every year there is a surplus, this will be the path we will follow. Collective interventions like this are not in the long-term interest of vibrant markets.?

The Pretoria-based Commission is considering Grain SA?s application for exemption from some antitrust laws to reduce the surplus, which Grain SA, which represents growers, estimates at about 3.6 million tons to 3.7 million tons in the corn marketing year that ends April 30 next year. Kobus Laubscher, the chief executive officer of Grain SA, wasn?t available for comment when his office in Bothaville was called today.

Sagis, which provides grain market data on behalf of the industry, is ?quite comfortable? with the minister?s estimate, while it views Grain SA?s estimate as ?quite conservative,? Anna Enslin, general manager of the organization, said from Pretoria.

The agriculture department also recommended that there be increased support for the production of wheat, soybeans and sunflowers and that the markets for biofuels and animal feed be explored. South Africa is a net importer of wheat.

An export agency or trading desk shouldn?t move South Africa back to the pre-1994 regulated-market system as the government doesn?t have the capacity or skill to sell all corn through a single state-run channel, Lindie Stroebel, economic intelligence manager at the Agricultural Business Chamber said from Pretoria today. Such an agency or desk should focus, instead, on promoting the local industry to develop new markets abroad, she said.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE

SOURCE:  Business Daily, Kenya

AUTHOR:  Opinion

URL:     http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Opinion%20&%20Analysis/-/539548/1050838/-/108cr2fz/-/

DATE:    10.11.2010

SUMMARY: "Partner states of Africa?s largest market bloc Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) are almost concluding a master plan that will see them harmonise biosafety and bio-technology laws by next year. While Kenya is a member of this bloc, it is yet to embrace Genetically Modified Organisms despite a framework guiding the use of bio-technology in resolving social needs such as food and medicine being in place."

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SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE

Partner states of Africa?s largest market bloc Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) are almost concluding a master plan that will see them harmonise biosafety and bio-technology laws by next year.

While Kenya is a member of this bloc, it is yet to embrace Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) despite a framework guiding the use of bio-technology in resolving social needs such as food and medicine being in place. The debate on GMO technology in Africa is an emotive one as Kenya found out when it was drawn into a controversy over the importation of GM foods to help cover for local production shortfalls.

Not even the enactment of the Biosafety Act 2009, which was approved by President Kibaki in February last year, and the subsequent formation of the National Biosafety Committee has helped offer investors, farmers and consumers a clear direction on how to approach the issue. Those calling for a harmonised legal regime on the adoption of GMOs believe it could be the panacea for food deficit nations to boost their productivity through the technology or by importing shipments of food produced through the technology.

Kenyan politicians, civil society activists, government technocrats and scientists are as divided as interest groups in countries like Germany where authorities in April said they would ban cultivation and sale of GMO maize despite European Union rulings that the biotech grain is safe. Without appearing to slant the debate either way, we believe authorities and stakeholders should save the country from the costs of indecision by coming to a consensus on the issue.

This should be achieved because the only sticking point now appears to be on the side effects that could come with the adoption of the technology.

Critics consider GMO foods, for example, could pose some risks to human health and environment while proponents say the use of GMO technology is a sure way of achieving food security in Kenya, in the wake of food shortages over the past few years.

It is imperative that the country speaks with one voice before Comesa draws the harmonised regulations. With the relevant ministries that would have informed this debate through research having slept on the job, the country could end up paying heavily in future if its position is not well represented in the harmonised draft.

These costs could come in the way of Kenya lagging behind in food production technology, persisting in food insecurity and spending billions in food imports every year. With the world moving fast towards adopting new methods of food production to serve the growing human and industrial demand, this could be one case where erring on the side of caution may not be prudent.




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