Call for urgent Parliamentary hearing on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and transparent review of risk assessment procedures and public participation in GMO decision making

To Mr. Mlungisi Lulu Johnson Chair: Portfolio Committee on Agriculture Parliament of South Africa

Dear Honourable Mr Johnson, Recent events, such as the nationwide protests against Monsanto and consumer outrage over the presence of genetically modified (GM) ingredients in well-known brands of baby food, illustrate that the issue of GM food is of great concern to the people of South Africa. Much of this public anger was triggered by the decision, in May 2012, of GMO Executive Council (SA?s GMO regulatory body) to permit the importation of the Dow Chemical Company’s GM maize, dubbed ‘agent orange maize’, engineered to tolerate herbicides based on the highly toxic chemical 2,4-D.

As a result of this decision, on the 7th of August 2012 the ACB, with support from the African Christian Democratic Party, submitted a petition to Parliament calling for the reversal of the Executive Council?s decision to approve Dow?s 2,4-D tolerant maize for import and for a review of the GMO decision making process in South Africa. The petition was supported by 18 health professionals and academics, 20 South African organisations and over 7,000 individual signatories.

Though this petition was forwarded to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture we are, over a year later, still unaware as to the status of this matter. In February 2013, undeterred by this wave of negative publicity, the Executive Council approved, to international consternation, an application by Dow for import of its 2,4-D tolerant soybean. South Africa has not imported any maize (GM or otherwise) from the United States in ten years.i Dow has sought these import approvals into South Africa to show regulators in the United States that these highly controversial new GM crop varieties will have a potential export market if they are approved; in other words, anticipating that commercial considerations will trump issues around public safety and environmental protection.

However, an unprecedented rejection from the American public, including petitions signed by more than 400,000 people and over 8,200 separate objections, have caused the US Department of Agriculture to delay any possible release until 2015 at the earliest, until full environmental impact assessments have been carried out. To compound matters further, it has come to our attention that Dow has applied to the Executive Council for import approval of another 2,4-D tolerant GM maize variety, which is also tolerant to glufosinate (which is to be phased out of use in the European Union by 2017) and glyphosate. This is a variety for which Dow has not even submitted an application for commercial cultivation in the United States!ii Despite this growing maelstrom of public opposition, Dow, and the rest of the biotech industry, continue to develop ever more risky GM crops, and will continue to act with impunity so long as our regulators allow them to do so.

In light of this, we call for an urgent Parliamentary hearing into the risk assessment and risk management procedures for GM crops in South Africa and for full transparency and genuine public participation in the GMO decision making process.