Protests and court case in South Africa / Monsanto wants to control what South Africans are told (25/5/2004)

1.Protest Against Secrecy on Genetically Modified Crops and Food
2.Monsanto wants to control what South Africans are told

1.Protest Against Secrecy on Genetically Modified Crops and Food

On Wednesday 26 May a protest march is to be held from 11h00 to 15h00 in the Cape Town city centre by EJNF (the Environmental Justice Network Forum), representing over 60 local environmental, youth and civic organisations to support the court case being argued in the Pretoria High Court by the biodiversity and biosafety watchdog NGO Biowatch.

Biowatch is attempting, through their legal action, to gain the constitutional right to access for data and information on the permits, approval and authorisation granted for all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) imports, exports, field trials and general releases allowed in South Africa, to date.

The government has permitted the growing of these crops in South Africa for more than 6 years, yet information relevant both to public oversight and participation in deciding their desirability and safety has been denied by both government departments as well as the commercial entities responsible for introducing these crops. Both the state regulatory agencies and Monsanto, their subsidiaries and related companies, who hold the patents on almost 100% of GM crops grown in South Africa, are contesting the case.

Under existing SA law none of these foods need be labelled and the public demand to know what they are eating has been ignored and denied. This is unacceptable in light of the fact that GM white maize, the first GM staple crop in the world has been allowed to be covertly placed on the market. GM wheat was recently withdrawn due to consumer sensitivities in the developed world, even though it would have had to have been labelled, yet we are swamped with unlabeled and inadequately tested GM staple foods in South Africa. This protest is a visible symbol of wide public discomfort about our situation and is a manifestation of public support for the Biowatch case.

The protest starts at the US Embassy and will present a manifesto to the US Consul General or his representative at 11h30. It then proceeds up Adderley Street to Parliament to present manifestos to the Ministers of Health, Environment and Agriculture or their representatives. After that a "Speak out against GMOs"  will be held at the St George's Cathedral Annexe by a wide range of organisations, from Unions to faith based organisations, citizens and NGOs, from  14h00 until 15h00.

Contact: Pat Fuzane - 072 5492376 Althea MacQuene - 082 8424552 Glenn Ashton - 083 403 2623 or 789 1751 Thabang Ngcozela - 082 3330371 or 021 448 0144

2.Monsanto wants to control what South Africans are told
Issued by: Oryx Media Productions
For immediate release:

Multinational seed and chemical company Monsanto wants tight control over the type and amount of information South Africans are told about genetically modified food and crops.

Biowatch South Africa has applied to the High Court in Pretoria for an order compelling the Department of Agriculture and multinational companies to reveal information to which it argues all South Africans are entitled. On the first day of argument today (Monday) the respondents collectively abandoned most of the issues they had raised in papers, with Monsanto trying desperately not to concede the crucial confidentiality point.

Counsel for The Registrar Genetic Resources, Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms and the Minister of Agriculture, Advocate Mervyn Rip SC, suggested that because Biowatch South Africa were fundamentally concerned with environmental issues, the organisation's beef was with the Minister of Environment – not Agriculture. But Advocate Rip later conceded that Biowatch South Africa was entitled to most information it sought.

Counsel for Monsanto Advocate Jerome Wilson protested: "It's hopelessly overbroad, my Lord," in response to the scope of information sought by Biowatch South Africa. He said Monsanto was concerned that the Department of Agriculture should not release its commercial secrets.

The Open Democracy Advice Centre, which has joined the action as a Friend of the Court, argued that anyone wanting to limit the Constitutional right of access to information could only do so on specific and compelling grounds.

Transparency was a cornerstone of our democracy, said Advocate Jacqui Cassette.

Advocate John Butler for Biowatch South Africa made the point that genetic modification was a controversial issue. Mr Justice Dunn agreed. It was a public interest issue, he said.

Outside court protestors displayed posters proclaiming: "Monsanto, Stop Poisoning Us," and, "Promote Sane Farming".

This statement was issued by Biowatch South Africa. For more information please visit the Biowatch website at www.biowatch.org.za or call Vicky Stark at 082 786 4240.

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