South Africa

South Africa

ACB’s objection to Monsanto’s commodity clearance application for Smartstax

In the 20th of April the Business Day newspaper carried a public notice of Monsanto‘s application to the South African GMO registrar for permission to import Smartstax maize, arguably the world’s most controversial and risky commercially grown GMO. While the majority of commercially grown genetically engineered crops contain at most 3 foreign genes, Smartstax contains eight, 6 of which are for insect resistance and a further 2 for resistance to chemical herbicides. Smartstax was granted approval in the US and Canada on the basis that the parent GM maize lines that were cross bred to create it were previously classified as safe, meaning that Smartstax has not even been subject to proper risk assessment! Several prominent biosafety experts at the United Nations have already expressed their dismay at this assumption of safety, while the issue of stacked GMOs is set to be a major area of contention at the upcoming Convention on Biodiversity meeting in Japan later this year. Having viewed Monsanto‘s application (in accordance with our constitutional rights), the African Centre for Biosafety has written to the GMO registrar expressing our grave concerns over several risks we were able to identify from the limited information

Traceability, segregation and labelling of genetically modified products in South Africa: A Position paper on the implementation of the Consumer Protection Act and mandatory labelling of GM food

South Africa has promulgated national legislation, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), which creates an opportunity for the mandatory labelling of certain foodstuffs containing or which are genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). The Act sets out a number of consumer rights that have relevance to the sale of products with genetically modified components. These include the right to choose; the right to disclosure and information; the right to fair and honest dealing; and the right to fair value, good quality and safety.

This report considers some of the issues relevant to the effective labelling of products containing GM ingredients in South Africa. Since the CPA only refers to food for human consumption in relation to labelling for GM products, the report narrowly focuses on this. The report starts with the objectives of labelling and the integrity of the labelling system; and what type of labelling could be used. It then considers the value chains for the three GM crops in South Africamaize, soy and cotton – and considers where power lies in each chain. Demand for non-GM products in South Africa is considered next. This is important because, in a market-driven economy, premiums for non-GM products will determine the


The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) condemns the decision by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to allow GM cassava field trials to go ahead in South Africa. This despite SA‘s GMO regulatory body rejecting such trials more than three years ago. The field trials involve cassava genetically modified to control starch content.

On the 19th of March, 2007, GMO body, the Executive Council EC rejected an application by the Agriculture Research Council (ARC) to conduct field trials in the South African environment and instead, proposed experiments in greenhouses only.[i] The main ground for the rejection was the EC’s concern that the ARC had not provided sufficient information to enable an informed risk assessment to take place.

On the 18th April 2007, the ARC submitted an appeal against the decision. The ACB was invited by the EC to make submissions in respect thereto, which the ACB duly did, on the 5 October 2007. These submissions are available on the website of the ACB.

An appeal board was duly appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs and the hearing was held 8-9 October 2007. A decision of the board was apparently arrived at and

JENNIFER THOMSON’S GM Virus Resistant Maize

December 2009

During 2007, researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT), particularly Professor Jennifer Thompson, in collaboration with Pannar seed South Africa, announced that they had developed transgene-derived resistance to the pathogen Maize-Streak-Virus (MSV). They also claimed to have developed the first maize with transgenic MSV resistance, heralding the first all-African produced genetically modified crop plant.[i] The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) investigated these claims and in a briefing paper titled, ?The UCT/Pannar genetically engineered maize resistant to maize streak virus?[ii] we raised a number of serious biosafety concerns and exposed the project as one still in its extreme infancy. Correspondence at the time between the ACB and Dionne Shepherd, the lead researcher from the department of molecular biology UCT, revealed that her research team were still at a stage of attempting to obtain a single copy of the transgene event in order to proceed to field trials.[iii] Two years have passed since these highly premature announcements, and yet the researchers continue to be light years away from the field trial-let alone commercial stage. Recent ACB correspondence with Dionne Shepherd reveals that the research team are currently still testing some 200 odd genes exhibiting resistance, in

Critical overview of South Africa’s Bioprospecting laws

In this booklet, we provide an overview of the core provisions of the legislative framework governing bioprospecting, access and benefit sharing in South Africa. In particular, we highlight the lack of opportunity for public participation by civil society in the bioprospecting permitting process, problems with accessing information, issues relating to the restricted appeal process, and the apparent conflict between the bioprospecting laws and apartheid provincial legislation. These themes are discussed against the backdrop of the ACB’s experiences as an NGO seeking to engage in bioprospecting permitting processes on its own behalf or on behalf of affected communities.

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Three varieties of Monsanto‘s genetically modified maize failed to produce crops during the 2008/9 growing season, leaving up to 200 000 hectares of fields barren of cobs and crop losses across several provinces in South Africa. According the GRAIN SA, the varieties are: MON 810, NK 603 and MON 810 x NK 603. These seeds were sold to commercial maize farmers and provided to resource poor farmers in South Africa.

Monsanto has compensated commercial farmers who lost their yield, and barred these farmers from speaking to the media or public. Monsanto has claimed that a mistake was made in the breeding process. No further details regarding this mistake or how it might have similarly affected all three varieties has been forthcoming from Monsanto. Why the veil of secrecy on Monsanto’s part and the gagging of affected commercial crop producers?

The South African biosafety regulatory authority, which approved the commercial release of these three maize varieties, has not seen fit to make any statement regarding the crop failure to the consuming public. Should we assume that the regulatory authority has uncritically accepted the Monsanto explanation? South Africa is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety,

Objection to the commercial release of the ARC GM Potato

ACB Objection to the commercial release of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) genetically modified potato. September 2008.

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Regulation of GMOs in South Africa: details & short comings

The ACB has been motivated to write this paper by the coming into effect on the 17th April 2007, of the Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Act (No. 23 of 2006).
(ii) This amends the Genetically Modified Organisms Act No. 15 of 1997 (?GMO Act?), 10 years after it became part of the body of post-apartheid statutes in South Africa. The author has in the past few years, on behalf of the NGO, Biowatch South Africa, thoroughly interrogated and critiqued the GMO Act. (iii) In addition, the ACB has interrogated countless permit applications in terms of the GMO Act, (iv) and thus, offers this document as a further contribution to our on-going work in the field of biosafety in South Africa.

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