• Appeal against the decision of the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms, to authorise various activities of Syngenta Seed Co. (Pty) Ltd regarding maize event Bt11, under the Genetically Modified Organisms Act, 15 of 1997. Winstanley Smith & Cullinan Inc. on behalf of Biowatch, October 2003.

Read here.


Appeal against the Bt11 decision of the Executive Council

The Biowatch Trust (“Biowatch”) is a national non-governmental organisation that acts in the public interest. It was established in response to, among other things, concerns arising from the widespread commercialisation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in South Africa, and the absence of civil society involvement in the determination of policy and law, and in decision-making, regulating their use, control and release.

Biowatch is aggrieved by the actions and decisions of the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms (“the Council”) and/or the Registrar: Genetically Modified Organisms (“the Registrar”), relating to an application made to the Directorate: Genetic Resources, Department of Agriculture, by Syngenta Seed Co. (Pty) Ltd (“Syngenta”), for the import of maize event Bt11 (“Bt11 maize”) seed and the commercial planting and general release of Bt11 maize. A party aggrieved by a decision or action taken by the Council or Registrar may, under section 19 of the Genetically Modified Organisms Act, 15 of 1997 (“the GMO Act”) read with the Regulations promulgated under the GMO Act (“the Regulations”),1 in accordance with the procedure prescribed in the GMO Act and the Regulations, appeal against such decision or action to the Minister for Agriculture (“the Minister”).

Biowatch hereby appeals to the Minister to set aside the decisions made by the Council and/or the Registrar in June and July 2003 to authorise the import of Bt11 maize seed and the conditional general release and commercial planting of Bt11 maize by Syngenta.

The Facts

At the beginning of October 2002, Biowatch became aware that Syngenta had made application to the Directorate: Genetic Resources, Department of Agriculture, for the general release (by means of commercial planting) and testing (by means of field trials) of Bt11 maize, when it saw two public notices placed by Syngenta in The Star newspaper on 2 and 3 October respectively. Copies of these notices are attached as Annex “SA1.” From the notices, it appears that authorisations for field trials and general release of Bt11 maize were applied for simultaneously.

As it was entitled to under Regulation 6(3)(d) of the Regulations, on 30 October 2002 Biowatch sent the Registrar comments and objections with respect to Syngenta’s proposed activities as detailed in the public notices. (A copy of the comment and objection document is attached, marked Annex “SA2”.) Biowatch raised a number of concerns regarding the process in terms of which Syngenta’s applications for the testing and general release of Bt11 maize were being considered, and some concerns regarding the nature and effects of Bt11 maize. In brief, Biowatch’s primary concerns, upon reading the public notices were:

  • that the simultaneous application by Syngenta for the authorisation of field trials and general release does not meet best practice procedures for biosafety, undermines the primary purpose of field trials, violates the environmental impact assessment provisions of the National Environmental Management Act, 107 of 1998 (“NEMA”) and is at odds with the objectives of the GMO Act;
  • that BT toxins may be harmful to the environment, as indicated by studies done abroad;
  • that South Africa may be placing reliance on studies used by regulatory agencies in the United States of America which are methodologically flawed and consider the impact of Bt toxins on a different environment to South Africa with its unique biodiversity;
  • that the public participation process undertaken by Syngenta and the Department of Agriculture regarding the application by Syngenta for the authorisation of field trials and general release, was flawed, with the effect that a number of constitutional and other rights of Biowatch and the public have been violated.

These include:

  1. the right of access to information contained in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act, 108 of 1996 (“the Constitution”);
  2. the provisions of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2 of 2000 (“PAIA”);
  3. the principles contained in section 2 of NEMA; and
  4. the provisions regarding public participation contained in the GMO Act.