SA judge orders Syngenta to stop distributing GM seed (21/8/2004)

SA judge orders Swiss company to stop distributing genetically engineered maize seed

The Pretoria High Court has ordered multinational seed company Syngenta not to distribute genetically engineered maize seed until a Department of Agriculture appeal board has considered Biowatch South Africa's contention that Syngenta should not have been permitted to grow the maize in the first place.

Mr Justice Daniels of the Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court made the order on Friday evening after Syngenta brought an urgent application to stop the appeal board hearing from proceeding this weekend.

The judge ordered that the date of the appeal board hearing be set back to September 14-15, but warned Syngenta against distributing the contentious seed until the appeal board had considered the matter. Most commercial maize farmers in South Africa plant in spring, which is around the corner.

Biowatch South Africa has objected on procedural and substantive grounds to the manner in which Syngenta was granted a permit to grow genetically engineered maize for human and animal consumption.

Among other flaws identified by Biowatch South Africa in the permitting process, the risk assessment presented by Syngenta in respect of its engineered maize amounted to nothing more than a cut and paste job from foreign documents making reference to bird species that do not even occur in South Africa.

In papers, Biowatch South Africa accused Syngenta of bringing the urgent High Court application in an attempt to drain the non-governmental organisation's coffers.

Syngenta tried to persuade Judge Daniels that they had been given insufficient time to prepare for the appeal, and although the appeal board has already ruled no expert witnesses would be heard that an array of expert witnesses in Europe could not be in South Africa this weekend.

According to the founding affidavit of Syngenta's attorney Hendrik Christoffel Reeders, his client feared it would, 'be ambushed at the hearing of the appeal, since it is unclear in which manner Biowatch intends adducing evidence in support of its case on appeal. It is essential to Syngenta's cause that its witnesses be available at the hearing to assess and counter, where relevant, Biowatch's evidence'.

* The Syngenta matter is separate to the litigation brought in the public interest by Biowatch South Africa to force the Department of Agriculture to reveal information relating to the proliferation of genetically engineered food in South Africa. Judgement is pending in this matter.

This statement was issued by Biowatch South Africa.

For more information, please call Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss on 082 4130502 or visit www.biowatch.org.za

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