|Desperate appeal against rejection of Gates' GM sorghum experiments (5/9/2007)|
EXTRACT: the stakes are high and the financial interests huge. Will the Appeal Board make a political or scientific decision? The ACB is watching this with great interest, taking particular account that Africa is the centre of origin for Sorghum where it serves as a staple food for more than 500 million people.
Desperate appeal against rejection of Gates Foundation's GM sorghum experiments
GRAIN SA, representing commercial farmers in South Africa, is feverishly drumming up support for the appeal by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) against the rejection of its GM sorghum application.
GRAIN SA is relying on studies done by Dr Rudolfo Nayga of the Texas A&M University in conjunction with CIMMYT on Monsanto's Quality Protein Maize and Dr Nayga's sorghum experiments done at ICRISAT's hub in Nigeria, to show the benefits of nutritionally enhanced seed varieties for African farmers and consumers. According to GRAIN SA, both CIMMYT and ICRISAT are involved in lobbying for support against the appeal.
Earlier this year, the Executive Council, GMO Act refused an application by the CSIR to conduct experiments in a level-3 containment facility with GM sorghum engineered to express a high-lysine storage protein from barley. The African Centre for Biosafety objected to the application.
The Executive Council refused the GM sorghum application because it felt that the potential risks associated with the GM sorghum experiment outweighs the potential benefits. In particular, it found that the experiment's contribution to building scientific capacity in South Africa was limited and that accidental release of the GM sorghum into the environment would have severe negative impacts on the environment, given that sorghum is an indigenous species with wild relatives in South Africa.
The GM sorghum experiment is part of the African Biotechnology Sorghum Project (ABS), bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to bring GM sorghum to Africa's poor. According to the project, GM sorghum promises to bring more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum to malnourished Africans. Other ABS consortium partners include Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Florence Wambugu's Africa Harvest Biotechnology International and Rockerfeller Foundation-backed African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
The Rockerfeller and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations' Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has committed vast resources for the development of 100 new improved seed varieties for Africa in five years, focussing on at least 10 different staple crops, including maize, cassava, sorghum and millet.
South Africa's Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs appointed an Appeal Board on the 29 May 2007 to consider the appeal. According to the office of the Acting Registrar: GMO Act, the Appeal Board is currently consulting amongst themselves and will send their final decision to the Minister of Agriculture in due course. The names of the Appeal Board members have not been revealed to the ACB.
It is the view of the ACB that South Africa's GMO Act makes it extremely difficult to overturn a decision on appeal because the appeal board is allowed to consider only new scientific or technical evidence or any other information that is in the opinion of the Appeal Board, directly applicable to the appeal.
However, the stakes are high and the financial interests huge. Will the Appeal Board make a political or scientific decision? The ACB is watching this with great interest, taking particular account that Africa is the centre of origin for Sorghum where it serves as a staple food for more than 500 million people.
 The CSIR lodged its appeal on the 1 March 2007.
 International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) was a key player in the Green Revolution in Asia and the first international research centre to be supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). See www.cimmyt.org.
 International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), see www.ICRISAT.org. ICRISAT belongs to the Alliance of Centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
 Objections to the application made by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in respect of contained use of genetically modified sorghum, to the National Department of Agriculture, South Africa. African Centre for Biosafety, 10 January 2007. http://www.biosafetyafrica.net.
 Letter from M.Vosges, Registrar of the GMO Act to M. Mayet, ACB, 29 May 2007.