"For the first time, government is demonstrating the will to govern on this issue, as opposed to being led by partisan biotech industry interests"

Government slaps temporary freeze on GM imports to SA
By Dominique Herman
Cape Times, October 28, 2005

A temporary moratorium on all applications to import genetically modified (GM) commodities has been ordered by the government at its most recent executive council meeting.

A study by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to assess the implications of GM imports on SA's trade has also been commissioned.

Before any more GM commodities - such as maize and soya - were brought into the country, information was needed to determine whether imports had any implications on trade compliance of international agreements, according to the council chairman, Moephuli Shadrack.

He did not know how long the moratorium would last but, as soon as the council received the DTI's study, it would convene again.

A DTI spokesperson said a first draft was expected to be complete by early 2006 with a final draft by the end of the year.

DTI's mandate was to ascertain the trade and price implications specifically of the importation of GM maize. At least 70% of maize traded on the global market was GM maize and only a handful of countries imported it, which affected its price.

There was also no identification and preservation system in place to trace the movement of GM commodities in South Africa.

Mariam Mayet, a director of the African Centre for Biosafety, said this was the first time a government department had been "courageous enough" to take this decision.

South Africa is a net exporter of maize so it "doesn't make sense" to import hundreds of thousands of tons of GM maize - mostly from Argentina.

"South Africa is one of the few countries which allows the importation of GM maize for commercial purposes and, although this maize is for animal feed, the animal feed industry accounts for about 60% of South Africa's maize market," Biowatch SA director Leslie Liddell said.

Mayet said that because so many countries restricted the import of GM commodities, there was a glut of the grain and there had to be resultant price distortions on the international market.

This had led to a situation where GM maize was cheaper to import from South America than it was to transport non-GM maize from Gauteng to the Western Cape.

She recalled a Grain SA statement earlier this year that approximately 3.5 million tons of local maize could not be moved.

The fact that labelling was not mandatory on South African food products also facilitated the import of GM maize, Liddell said.

As a result of the imports, farmers could not sell maize on the domestic market, which impacted on local commercial production and risked thousands of regional agricultural jobs.

"For the first time, government is demonstrating the will to govern on this issue, as opposed to being led by partisan biotech industry interests," said Glenn Ashton of Safeage.