1.Radical revision of GMO Amendment Bill urged - SA
2.Controversy rages over genetically modified crops - NIGERIA
Public hearings in the South African Parliament this week on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Amendment Bill provide an opportunity for the government to properly regulate a risky new technology which has caused concern internationally, and which 6 out of 10 South Africans either reject or seek to avoid - item 1.
1.Legislation On Genetically Modified Crops Takes Industry At Its Word
Estelle Randall Sunday Times (South Africa), January 15 2006
Estelle Randall sets out the many flaws in a Bill designed to correct some controversial legislation
PUBLIC hearings in Parliament this week on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Amendment Bill provide an opportunity for the government to properly regulate a risky new technology which has caused concern internationally.
A Research Surveys poll at the end of November 2005 found that almost six out of 10 South Africans either reject genetically modified foods or avoid them.
It's true, we humans have been modifying living organisms for centuries through crop selection, selective breeding of animals and the development of vaccines. But genetic modification is different from this age-old practice. It involves the transfer of genes between species, which are unrelated in nature. And, for the first time, companies own patents on seed.
So, unlike conventional plant breeding, the whole issue of GM crops raises concerns around human health, environmental protection, food security and the socioeconomic consequences of allowing powerful multinational companies to gain significant control over food production.
When these crops were first introduced in SA in 1992 there was no coherent regulatory framework in place. But even after the first democratic elections in 1994 there was no meaningful public consultation about whether SA needed this technology or, if it did, the terms on which we should continue to open the world's third most biologically diverse country to powerful global companies whose track records suggested that their pursuit of profit would outweigh any considerations of potential harm to human or environmental well-being.
The result, in 1997, was the Genetically Modified Organisms Act, with its emphasis on smoothing the process of issuing permits for GM crops without a corresponding liability for the potentially negative impacts of these.
Thousands of permits for GM crops have been issued since the GMO Act became operational in 1999. Currently, SA is the only country in Africa which is commercially growing white maize - a staple food - in GM form. SA also imports and exports GM maize as animal feed, yellow maize has entered our food chain in the form of cornflakes, and GM soy and cotton have also been approved for commercial release. And at least 11 different kinds of GM fruit and vegetables are being experimented with.
Despite growing disquiet about this new technology among consumers and producers, the GMO Amendment Bill does little to correct the existing flawed regulatory system.
A key shortcoming is its failure to adopt the precautionary approach. This says we shouldn't introduce a new technology or continue with an existing one in the absence of definitive data proving its benefits and safety.
The absence of this approach has resulted in a Bill, which continues to take the GM industry at its word and to severely limit meaningful public participation in decision-making and access to information.
Self-regulation by the GMO industry is entrenched by allowing GMO permit applicants to submit risk assessments without independent review. Applicants are also given the responsibility of monitoring their own compliance with permit conditions. Given the substantial economic interests at stake, this self-regulatory approach is highly inappropriate.
The Bill further favours industry because it lacks tools for imposing rehabilitation obligations on defaulting permit holders. And it fails to grant powers to the regulatory authority to suspend or withdraw permits when there is non-compliance.
The Bill leaves the content of notification of permit applications up to applicants and notices only have to be placed in local - not national - newspapers.
And producers, distributors and suppliers of GM products are let off the hook in terms of liability for activities involving GMOs. Instead, it places this liability on users - consumers and farmers.
This approach to liability is inconsistent with the "polluter pays" principle entrenched in the National Environmental Management Act of 1998. It is also a reversal of conventional rules of liability.
The Bill's silence about compulsory labelling and testing of GMOs undermines consumer choice, prevents users from protecting themselves against liability and impedes the monitoring of human health impacts associated with the use of GMOs.
Further, there is no obligation for the regulatory authority to consider public input when decisions are made on GM crops. This contradicts the Constitution, which entitles all South Africans to procedurally fair administrative action, and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, which sets out requirements for procedural fairness.
With its emphasis on a scientific approach to risk assessment and decision-making, at the expense of environmental, social and economic factors, the Bill reduces the likelihood that the interests of poor and marginalised people will be taken into account when decisions are made about the use of GMOs.
In the light of these flaws, Parliament should urge the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs to undertake a consultative process to radically revise the existing draft legislation. In the meantime, all new applications for GM permits should be put on hold.
(Randall is Biowatch South Africa's media and information officer. Biowatch is a non-governmental organisation which publicises, monitors and researches issues of genetic engineering and promotes biological diversity, biosafety, sustainable development and social justice.)
2.Controversy rages over genetically modified crops
By Chinedu Uwaegbulam and Jennifer Uzodibia
The Guardian (Nigeria), January 16, 2006 http://www.guardiannewsngr.com/homes_property/article07
[From Nigeria's most influential newspaper.]
Environmental groups have once again picked holes on the use of GM crops. The report says the attempt by biotech companies to amass control over food supply are troubling developments that bespeak a profound disconnection between profit driven goals of agribusiness and the clear desires of citizens around the world for health, sustainable food systems
NIGERIAN leading campaigners against the use of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) products have issued a report that carpets world's producers of GM seeds and food, saying that governments should put the interests of people and the environment first, and take responsibility for unethical behaviour of multi-national companies.
The report christened 'Who Benefits from GM Crops? issued by the Africa Centre for Biosafety and Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and other partners of Friends of Earth International alleged that the report published by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agric-biotech Applications (ISAAAs) yearly has misrepresented the performance of GM crops.
The document released last week in Lagos, illustrated how Monsanto, United States biotech giant has managed to attain an unacceptable influence over national and international agricultural and food policies. The unveiling of the report coincided with the visit of Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser to Nigeria. Schmeiser has been into a legal battle with Monsanto over patent infringement.
Monsanto had no immediate comment. But ISAAA officials have continued to count their gains. Biotech cotton, corn, soybeans and other crops were planted on 222 million acres, or 90 million hectares, in 21 countries last year. The United States remained the dominant user of biotech crops, which are genetically altered to have such attributes as resisting destructive insects and tolerance of weed-killing sprays.
Indeed, ISAAA acknowledged that the year-over-year acreage growth of 11 per cent shown in its report was markedly slower than the 20 per cent growth seen in 2004 and the 15 per cent growth seen in 2003, as farmers, food companies and consumers continue to evaluate the costs and benefits of the technology.
But farmers in China, India, Brazil, South Africa and other countries were increasingly finding benefits from the technology, according to ISAAA Chairman Clive James. The group said Monsanto, the world's leading developer of GM crops, and a financial contributor to ISAAA pushes biotech crop plantings on farmers. James said biotech crops have increased the income of 7.7 million farmers in developing countries, helping to reduce poverty. "It is an extremely important technology," James said.
ERA Executive Director, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey said: "Monsanto's influence over government's is so large that many of them including the United Nations bodies such as the Food and Drug Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have adopted the company's claim that GM products are good for the environment and will contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger.
"They have lauded the benefits that have accompanied the introduction of GM crops elsewhere, and have ignored the negative impacts and new problems that have accompanied the introduction of GM crops."
The report shows that "Monsanto's pesticides reduction claims are unfounded and that in fact, GM soy has dramatically increased pesticide use. Claims that GM crops will contribute to poverty reduction have also been unfounded, as have claims that consumers benefit from GM products. Ultimately, it is Monsanto and other GM companies that profit the most from the aggressive promotion of their GM products."
Bassey said: "Contrary to the promises made by the biotech industry, the reality of the last 10 years shows that the safety of GM crops cannot be ensured and that these crops are neither cheaper nor (of) better quality. Biotech crops are not a solution to solve hunger in Africa or elsewhere."
The report further stated that "No GM crops have been introduced to address hunger. GM BT cotton in South Africa has been widely promoted by Monsanto as an African small farmer/GM success story, to raise them out of poverty. However, since 2000 the number of Bt cotton farmers in South Africa has gone down, many of them incurring losses and defaulting on their loans, raising strong questions about the impact of GMOs on poverty."
ERA also expressed concern on the recent push of the biotech industry in West Africa. The group disclosed that a conference in 2004 held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, was used to adopt a resolution calling for greater research and investment in agricultural biotechnology and recommending the creation of a West African Centre for Biotechnology. Four head of states and 18 ministers attended the conference from West Africa.
The report said: "The future of who controls our food hangs in the balance. Monsanto will target major food and feed markets over the coming years in order to expand its global genetic footprint of GM crops. The biotechnology industry as a whole continues to amass control over the food supply through the purchase of seed companies, the acquisition of patents on GM crops and genes, and the persecution of farmers for alleged patent infringement. The aggressive push in South Africa to adopt new regulatory mechanisms for imposing technology fees is a clear attempt to export North American practices at the global level."