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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