The doorway to Africa revolves (28/5/2007)

2.AfricaBio: a profile - GM Watch


According to Mariam Mayet at the African Centre for Biosafety, the Registrar of GMOs in South Africa is leaving to work for Syngenta. Her new job? Regulatory affairs.

Mariam also notes that "Thulani from Syngenta regulatory affairs manager is now with DEAT" - the South Africa department of the environment, "working on biodiversity and... international agreements."

And these are but the latest instances of the revolving door in South Africa:

*The government official chiefly responsible for drafting South Africa's GMO Act now works for Monsanto in public relations http://www.groundwork.org.za/Booklets/BK4.pdf

*Jennifer Thomson, a leading light of a number of biotech industry backed lobby groups, including AfricaBio, was involved in drafting the South Africa's national strategy on biotechnology.

*Thomson was also Chair of SAGENE, South Africa's orginal regulatory body for GM crops.

*Thomson's also a member of South Africa's current Advisory Committee, providing scientific advice on GM crop releases. While it is an Executive Council which is the final decision making body, heavy reliance is placed on the Advisory Commitee to furnish expert scientific and technical guidance on regulatory decisions.

*Other members of the Advisory Committee are also members of AfricaBio.

No wonder the industry lobby group AfricaBio is cock-a-hoop: "South Africa has a national strategy on biotechnology; it has clearly accepted that modern genetic technologies are bringing a wide range of benefits, it has excellent legislation in place, and it is engaged in public awareness activities... The GMO Act that regulates all research, development, field testing, import, export and commercial use is one of the best in the world."

And that's undoubtedly why the uptake of GM crops in South Africa has been amongst the most rapid anywhere in the world, and also why AfricaBio, USAID etc. have been so keen to export South Africa's weak regulatory model to the rest of Africa.


2.AfricaBio - a profile

Based in South Africa, AfricaBio lobbies for GM crops in Africa and beyond. Jocelyn Webster is AfricaBio's Executive Director. AfricaBio's board includes Jennifer Thomson, a Professor at the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town who is also an advisor to the biotech-industry funded Council for Biotechnology Information in the US, a Board Member of the biotech-industry backed ISAAA and Chair of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, which receives backing from the industry and USAID to introduce GM crops into Africa. Thomson recently had a book (Genes in Africa) published which promotes the benefits of GM crops for the developing world.

Thompon was also involved in the drafting of the South African Biotechnology Strategy and was Chair of SAGENE, South Africa's orginal regulatory body for GM crops. She is also a member of South Africa's current Advisory Committee, which provides expert technical advice on regulatory decisions. Other members of the Advisory Committee are also said to be members of AfricaBio or to be closely connected to members.

Muffy Koch is a leading member of AfricaBio who was also on a sub-committee of the Advisory Committee. Like Thomson she was also once part of SAGENE. Koch has also been in charge of education issues at AfricaBio. She has also chaired the AfricaBio Education and Training working group and been the editor of BioLines, AfricaBio's news service. She has also had her own 'biosafety' consultancy firm, Golden Genomics.

AfricaBio is vague about who it respresents and coy about its finances and its main financial backers. This contrasts with other similar bodies - bodies with which AfricaBio is formally aligned. For instance, EuropaBio proclaims itself 'the voice of the European biotech industry'. Similarly, BIO - the Washington DC-based Biotechnology Industry Organization - presents itself simply as the industry's major trade association.

AfricaBio, by contrast, seeks to present itself not as a corporate lobby but as part of civil society -- 'The NGO taking biotechnology to the people of Africa'. The word 'trade' is notably absent in AfricaBio's description of itself as 'a non-political, non-profit biotechnology association'. It even goes so far as to claim to represent, 'All sectors within South Africa involved with, or with an interest in food, feed and fibre'. However, in one of its press releases it frankly stated that it was intended to 'provide one strong voice for lobbying the government on biotechnology and ensuring that unjustified trade barriers are not established which restrict its members'. (Africabio, 2000).

Despite the vagueness in which it sometimes cloaks its agenda, Monsanto is known to be among AfricaBio's backers and Delta and Pine, Novartis and Pioneer Hi Breed are also reported to have been part of the consortium. AfricaBio, though, claims to represent a 'wide spectrum' of support. This is evident, it says, from its founding members who, it claims, include scientists, students and academic institutions as well as biotechnology companies, seed companies, farmer organizations, grain traders, food manufacturers, and food retailers. However, under

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