Amended South African GMO law doesn't go far enough (19/10/2005)

1.Biowatch SA says amended GMO law doesn't go far enough
2.AfricaBio – a GM Watch profile

COMMENT: The row over attempts to improve South Africa's regulatory framework for GMOs is of particular importance because a key part of the US-industry campaign to push GMOs into Africa involves locking African countries into weak biosafety regimes like that introduced under the old apartheid regime in South Africa – a country where the uptake of GM crops has been amongst the most rapid anywhere in the world and where the line between corporate lobbyists and regulators has been non-existent – see the AfricaBio profile below.

1.Biowatch SA says amended GMO law doesn't go far enough
Business Day, South Africa

THE Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Amendment Bill tabled in Parliament did not go far enough to ensure that South Africans' constitutional right to a safe environment was upheld, environmental group Biowatch SA said today.

National Department of Agriculture spokesperson Steve Galane said that the bill had been tabled in parliament yesterday, but he said he wouldn't comment further until the parliamentary process had been completed.

"In contrast to the call by parliamentarians two years ago to completely reshape the regulatory framework for GMOs, this bill is a superficial attempt to mend cracks in a wall, when the building is crumbling," Biowatch said.

The bill, which was published for public comment in the Government Gazette on 26 August, would do little to tighten the existing industry-friendly GMO legislative regime, the grouping added.

Biowatch identified four flaws in the GMO Bill.

Firstly, the grouping said it was concerned by the absence of a "precautionary approach" as a basis for decision-making around the granting of GMO permits.

Biowatch advocated the use of the precautionary approach when there was an absence of definitive data proving the benefits and safety of a GMO product and in such an instance it should be assumed that there are potential problems with the new product.

Secondly, Biowatch said that there was no mechanism in the bill for liability and redress when GMO manufacturers contravened the legislation.

Thirdly, there was no clear and obligatory procedure and mechanism for meaningful public participation and access to information around decisions to grant GMO permits, the grouping added.

Fourthly, there was too much reliance on self-regulation by the GMO industry, Biowatch said.

"For example, although the bill requires GMO users to notify the Executive Council (of the GMO Advisory Council) of any accidents, the council is not obliged to appoint a panel to inquire into and report on such accidents and to make recommendations about avoiding such accidents in future," the grouping said.

"We welcome an attempt to better resource the GMO Advisory Council. We note that the department has placed an advertisement calling for applications to the council and trust that the names of people appointed will be publicised, that the process of appointing them will be transparent and that efforts will be made to ensure the composition of the council is not biased towards the GMO industry," Biowatch said.

2.AfricaBio – a GM Watch 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 Thompson, 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.

Thompson 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.

Although now working for AgBios in Canada, Muffy Koch has been a leading member of AfricaBio who has served on a sub-committee of South Africa's current Advisory Committee. Like Thompson she was also once part of SAGENE. Koch has had charge of education issues at AfricaBio and has chaired the AfricaBio Education and Training working group. She also has 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 were also 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 AfricaBio's membership and voting rights , business members have 5 votes, while research organisations and non-business members have, respectively, 2 votes and 1 vote. It is cle


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