GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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GE grows in South AFrica (commentary)




Johannesburg (Mail and Guardian, December 6, 1996) - Interest in South 
 Africa as a testing   ground for genetically modified organisms is  
increasing. This interest is shown mainly by multinationals such as  
Calgene, Pannar, Monsanto and Hoescht. 
   But South Africa has no regulations to control modern biotechnology 
-  the craft of creating artificial organisms - despite the threat it 
could  pose to human health and the environment. 
   Voluntary guidelines are administered by the South African Committee 
for Genetic Experimentation, a government advisory body, and a Bill to 
 establish a regulatory system is making its way through Parliament. 
But  there is a prevailing perception that the Bill is lopsided and  
cumbersome, and does not adequately address the country's inability to 
 manage potential risks to the environment. 
   The local biotechnology industry is about three decades old, but the 
 issue of regulating it has only recently entered the public domain. In 
 October, the department of Tourism and Environmental Affairs released 
 the Green Paper on Biodiversity, which pointed out the potential 
threats  of this modern science. 
   What separates biotechnology from other scientific endeavours is 
that  it can fundamentally transform living organisms. These can 
interact with  other organisms, changing them and sometimes causing 
them to become  extinct. The threat is similar to that of invasive 
alien plants. 
   South Africa is not a signatory to the International Convention of 
Biodiversity, which aims to protect the world's biological resources.  
The countries that have signed agree that an international protocol on 
 biosafety is needed to ensure the safe handling and transfer of  
genetically modified organisms between countries. 
   This move is regarded as a victory for developing countries, which 
fear  that they could become the dumping grounds of genetic 
experimentation by  the developed countries. 
   The Department of Tourism and Environmental Affairs held a workshop 
in October to discuss the South African position on the proposed  
international protocol. But there is still a general reluctance within 
 the local industry to engage in this debate, and to large extent the  
industry is opposed to an international protocol. 
   Saliem Fakir is co-ordinator of a natural- resource management 
programme  at the Land and Agriculture Policy Centre (LAPC) in 
Johannesburg 
   by Saliem Fakir 
   Copyright 1996 Mail and Guardian. Distributed via Africa News 
Online.  -0- 

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