During 2006, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) submitted an application to the South African GMO Authority, the Executive Council: GMO Act, for permission to conduct field trials of GM Cassava.

The ACB and the international NGO, GRAIN, submitted comprehensive objections to the application on 8 September 2006, widely supported by local and international groups and individuals. On the 19th of March, 2007, the EC rejected the application and instead, proposed that the trials take place within greenhouses as opposed to the open environment.[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 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 at www.biosafetyafrica.org.za.

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 sent to the Minister, during October 2007, for final approval. The ACB has no idea what the decision of the appeal board entails, despite the ACB’s active participation in the process and its persistent enquiries. More than two years have passed since the appeal board having sent its decision to the Minister and we still remain in the dark.

We have been able to glean from the Minutes of the Meeting of the EC, that the EC was as at July 2009, passing along enquiries from the Minister’s office relating to intellectual property and ‘use of the material,’ to the appeal board. On the 8th of December 2009, the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) was informed by the Registrar, GMO Act that the decision on the appeal has still yet to be finalised.[ii] It does appear as if the trials may well be given the thumbs up by the South African government.

[i] EC minutes, 13th March, 2007. Department of Agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

[ii] Personal communication, Gillian Christians, Registrar, GMO Act. Department of Agriculture, forestry and fisheries. 08/12/2009