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Chronologically listed items on this page in descending order:

Sick lab rats prompt SA probe into GM maize

GM foods doubts persist

Monsanto nailed in South Africa

Monsanto checked over GM claim

South African government rejects modified maize



Africa's Sorghum Saved

Monsanto's Seed of Hope Campaign in South Africa

GM grapes earn wrath of growers

Protests at Stellenbosch transgenic grapevine experiment


Can the Poor Help GM Crops? Technology, Representation & Cotton in the Makhathini Flats, South Africa


GM crops and DDT - connect the dots



GM food - is it safe or not?

South Africa: Testing to begin on genetically modified foods

Stand firm against push to legalise terminator gene crops

SA researchers find traces of modified food in local maize

GMOs Threatening Seed Industry

Religious groups worried about GM foods


Most in SA Reject GM Foods

Government slaps temporary freeze on GM imports to SA

Praise for GM maize ruling

Commodity imports into South Africa of GMOs have been halted

Biowatch SA says amended GMO law doesn't go far enough


G8 SUMMIT: Africa Needs Food Security, Not Experimental Crops

Call for genetically modified food ban

'Bizarre' GMO law helps firms, not consumers




The GM Bubble

Genetically modified organisms: govt to reveal all - Mail & Guardian, 25 Feb 2005


Sick lab rats prompt SA probe into GM maize - By Bobby Jordan - The Sunday Times (South Africa), 1 July 2007
Report sparks concern after test shows effects on blood, organs
The government is assessing the safety of genetically modified (GM) maize in South Africa after a flare-up over its effect on laboratory rats that ate NK603 during a 90-day trial. A shocking report, commissioned by global environmental lobbyists Greenpeace, said that there were "statistically significant" effects on the blood and organs of laboratory rats. The rats that were fed the GM maize suffered liver and kidney toxicity and differences in weight gain between the sexes . NK603 is licensed in South Africa and is eaten in maize products such as mealie pap, but the report says more tests are needed before it is deemed safe for consumption.
The report also contains a detailed analysis of the Monsanto Company's own health and safety trial of NK603. The multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation's analysis also found significant differences between rats fed NK603 and other maize. However, Monsanto said the differences pose no health or safety risk.
"In the absence of such results, consent for maize to be released into the environment, for food, feed or cultures, may present a serious risk to human and animal health and releasing it should be forbidden," said the Greenpeace report, compiled by scientists called the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering. Dr Julian Jaftha, chairman of South Africa's GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) executive council , said the government could reverse its decision to license the products if toxicity claims proved to be true. The Department of Agriculture has issued 74 licences this year for NK603 maize or maize consignments containing NK603, department records show. The licences were issued for planting, "general release" and "use as commodity".
Jaftha said the new report had not been studied and would be referred to a scientific advisory panel. "We have not had any insight into the report so it's difficult to make a judgment of its scientific authenticity." A similar report, raising concerns about another type of GM maize, Mon863, was referred to the panel earlier this year. "That report has been forwarded to one of our scientific reviewers and we are awaiting the outcome of his recommendation," said Jaftha. "Similar to what we've done [with Mon863], we would review this latest data and it would go through to our scientific advisory panel to make a recommendation on it.....The [GMO] executive council is empowered to reverse a decision. If it is found that there is some uncertainty as to NK603's safety we would take it through the process of reversing the decision [to license it]," Jaftha said.
This week the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) GMO panel ruled in favour of Mon863. It said there were no grounds for new safety concerns. They have yet to make a ruling on NK603.
Monsanto has slammed the report, which it claims is part of a broader anti-GMO strategy. Monsanto South Africa spokesman Wally Green said: "These foods are as safe if not safer than conventional foods. People who don't like the technology obviously have another agenda."
National Chamber of Milling executive director Jannie de Villiers said he was satisfied with the safety protocols governing the licensing of GMOs in South Africa. However, environmental group Biowatch says the maize rumpus is further proof that GMOs need to be thoroughly tested before being released into the market. Biowatch has also questioned the benefit of allowing patents on critical seed resources, particularly in resource-poor Africa. "Unlike other seed, GM seed is patented and owned by the world's top five pesticide companies, giving them unprecedented control over the basics of life. These patents have enhanced the profitability of the GM industry but have had few benefits for farmers or the poor," said Biowatch South Africa director Leslie Liddell.
Half of South Africa's maize supply is genetically modified. It is grown either locally or imported from North and South America. It is mixed together with natural maize, before being sold and turned into products like mealiemeal, breakfast cereals and chicken and cattle feed. The cumulative area planted with GM maize in South Africa over the past six seasons is 2.686-million hectares, an area bigger than the Kruger National Park, according to a report commissioned by the maize industry.

GM foods doubts persist - By Melanie Peters - June 25, 2007
In the week that local American biotechnology giant Monsanto was ordered to withdraw "unsubstantiated" information about the safety of genetically modified foods, new research has cast further doubt on how these products are approved for sale and consumption. This is according to a statement released by environmental watchdog organisation, Biowatch, on Friday.
South Africa's Advertising Standards Authority on Monday ordered Monsanto SA to withdraw its advert which appeared in You magazine. In a full-page magazine advert entitled "Biotechnology - the true facts", the company sought to reassure South African consumers that it was safe to eat all genetically modified food products, and that they were even safer and more nutritious than natural food. However, the truth of the advertisement was challenged by Mark Wells of East London, who lodged a complaint of misleading or false advertising with the advertising body. The company was then asked to provide substantiating evidence from an independent and credible expert for its claims, which it was unable to do. It was then ordered to withdraw or amend the advert immediately and that the claim that "no negative reactions have ever been reported" should not be used again, unless substantiated.
Director of Biowatch Leslie Liddell said a study conducted by French scientific research institute CRIIGEN on a Monsanto maize variety - which South Africa approved in 2002 - shows that rats fed the GM maize and those fed conventional maize differed in brain, kidney, heart and liver measurements and had significant weight differences.
© 2007 Independent Online.

Monsanto nailed in South Africa - Monsanto tells a pack of lies to the Advertising Standards Authority and gets nailed - By Trevor Wells, Farmers Legal Action Group - South Africa -, 25 June 2007 -
Mark Wells, an organic farmer from Cintsa on the Wild Coast, South Africa, challenged the words in bold in the [] advert [at the end of this article] which appeared in the widely read "You Magazine" and produced evidence to repudiate the claim. An arbitration panel consisting of eight members and chaired by former High Court Judge Mervyn King SC whose cutting edge 'King Report on Corporate Governance' is hailed as the best practice corporate governance bible. In view of the prima facie evidence produced by the complainant the ASA opened the proceedings by stating that the matter before them for consideration was whether the advert was in breach of two sections of the Code of Practice
1. Substantiation
2. Misleading claims
Dealing with the substantiation section first the ASA ruled that the onus is on the advertiser to substantiate the claim. Monsanto addressed the ASA at length and submitted inter alia that it had a strict code of conduct and that MON 863 was not their product.
The complainant then submitted evidence that MON 863 was indeed a product of Monsanto and that Monsanto had suppressed the evidence of serious damage to the liver and kidneys of rats in their own GM maize trials until ordered to release this evidence by a German Court. Furthermore Monsanto had applied to the South African GM regulatory authority for a commodity release permit for MON 863. Having lost all credibility Monsanto instructed their lawyers to soldier on.
Monsanto then argued that five independent scientists had assessed the data presented by them and concluded that MON 563 had no adverse effect as claimed by the complainant. The complainant stated that that these spurious claims were not independent and that it was obvious that these scientists were specifically contracted to diminish the evidence of the damage to rats in the suppressed report. The complainant argued that the facts speak for themselves and the onus was on Monsanto to prove that the people they had contracted were independent. Monsanto then changed their tack in mid-stream and argued that rather than focus on the two conflicting studies the ASA should focus on the benefits of GM maize. The substantiation section of the code provides that any advertiser must be able to substantiate any claim objectively with documentary evidence which emanates from an independent, credible and expert source acceptable to the ASA. The ASA then invoked this clause. Monsanto's lawyers then pulled a letter out of the hat from Covenance Laboratories in the USA which inter alia stated that they were not affiliated with Monsanto.
After applying their minds to the letter from Covenance in the USA, Justice King ruled that the benefits of "GM-Corn" had nothing to do with the case in front of them. After having given Monsanto every opportunity to substantiate their claim they had failed to do so. The letter from Covenance made no mention of the issue which was before the ASA for consideration. "The statement which the complainant alleges is false, to wit: 'This is one of the most extensively tested and controlled types of food, and no negative reactions have ever been reported.' goes beyond merely indicating safety. It expressly states that out of all the studies done in this field no negative effects have ever been reported." Without reference to the fact that Monsanto had wasted the time of an eight member panel and come to the hearing with dirty hands, Monsanto was politely informed that their claim was unsubstantiated and in breach of the Code of Practice. The ASA further ruled that as the claim was unsubstantiated it was not necessary to consider whether it was misleading. Monsanto was ordered to immediately withdraw their claim and given the standard polite warning, which applies to all advertisers, that in future they must make sure that they can substantiate any claims before they publish them.
In January, this year, Monsanto was fined 15,000 euros (19,000 dollars) in a French court Friday for misleading the public about the environmental impact of herbicide Roundup.. A former chairman of Monsanto Agriculture France was found guilty of false advertising for presenting Roundup as biodegradable and claiming that it left the soil clean after use. Monsanto's French distributor Scotts France was also fined 15,000 euros. In 2005 Monsanto was caught smuggling South African produced GM Bollgard cotton seed into Indonesia disguised as rice. Monsanto was fined for bribing Indonesian officials.
More recently in June this month, a second peer reviewed case involving another variation of Monsanto's GM maize, namely, NK603,has been shown by studies to be potentially toxic to humans. NK 603 has been approved for food, feed, processing, and propagation in Europe and the Philippines The new research, carried out by a French scientific research institute(1), involves biotech firm Monsanto's NK603 GMO corn (marketed commercially under the name Round-up Ready) which was approved as food and feed in the country in 2003, and for propagation in 2005. Rats..............significant weight differences compared to those fed with normal maize. Almost 70 statistically significant differences were observed and reported - 12 for hematology parameters, 18 for clinical chemistry parameters, nine for urine chemistry parameters, six for the organ weights (brain, heart, liver), 14 for body weights and body weight changes, and eight for food consumption. toxicity, The most alarming was the diminished brain size. Scientists warned that this was a danger warning for growing children.(1). Comite de Recherche et d'Information Independantes sur le genie Genetique (CRIGEN).
Here is Monsanto's advert:
Is your food safe?
Biotechnology - the true facts
The safety of genetically modified food products though biotechnology remains a subject of uncertainty to many people but after more than twenty years of research and ten years of commercial use, genetically modified grain products have been found to be just as healthy, nutritious and safe as normal products. All commercially approved grain products that have been genetically modified adhere to strict food, feed and environmental safety guidelines of regulatory authorities worldwide. **This is one of the most extensively tested and controlled types of food, and no negative reactions have ever been reported.** In fact, these innovative products also lead to food with improved nutritional value, which includes enriched vitamin A, protein and antioxidant content, as well as better food safety through the removal of allergens and anti-nutrients. In short you can use it with confidence.

Monsanto checked over GM claim - The Citizen (South Africa), June 20 2007,1,22
CAPE TOWN - Biotech crops giant Monsanto has been ordered to withdraw an advertising claim that no negative reactions have ever been reported to genetically modified foods. The Advertising Standards Authority made the ruling this week in response to a consumer complaint lodged against a Monsanto South Africa print ad referring to GM grain products. The ASA added however that it would reconsider its ruling if Monsanto came up with substantiation of its claim.
The ad, which ran in the February edition of You magazine, carried the heading: "Is your food SAFE?" and contained an image of a woman with two children in a kitchen looking at a cake. Below the sub-heading: "Biotechnology - the true facts", it said: "This is one of the most extensively tested and controlled types of food, and no negative reactions have ever been reported."
The ASA said the complainant, a Mark Lewis, said the "no negative reactions" claim was false, and cited a scientific study on "the dangerous effects of these products". Monsanto had said in response that all biotech crops approved for commercialisation world-wide had been thoroughly assessed for safety according to international guidelines. They had been found to be as wholesome, nutritious and safe as conventional crops, Monsanto said.
The ASA said, however, that the onus was on Monsanto to provide independent verification of the "no negative reactions"; claim. Though Monsanto had provided numerous studies contradicting claims that GM foods were unsafe, they made no reference to the "no negative reactions" claim in the ad. The claim was therefore "currently unsubstantiated" the ASA said, and had to be withdrawn immediately. The claim could not be used again in its current format until substantiation had been submitted, evaluated, and a new ruling made.

South African government rejects modified maize - By Melanie Gosling - Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The government has rejected a seed company's application to grow genetically modified (GM) maize in South Africa for the biofuel industry. The GM maize, called "maize event 3 272", is the first GM industrial crop in the world for which approval has been sought for cultivation. The government turned down the application from seed company Syngenta
because it said it had not convincingly shown that the maize was safe for food or animal feed. Although the GM maize was intended to feed cars, not people, the government said it was possible that the GM maize would become mixed with ordinary maize grown for food.
'It is a historic decision'
The department of agriculture's executive council, which regulates the GM industry, also said the GM maize could harm South Africa's maize export industry. The GM maize strain had not been released for commercial use in any other country and, once grown commercially, it could enter international trade routes, said the council. "Contamination of South African export products with Event 3 272 could jeopardise the export of maize products and may have serious economic consequences," it said. A third reason was that the company had not used World Health Organisation methods for evaluating whether the new GM maize contained allergens.
Julian Jaftha, who chairs the executive council, said on Tuesday that Event 3 272 maize was a specific type of genetic modification and "there is always a chance it gets mixed up with other maize". Ken Flower, of Syngenta, said yesterday that he could not comment as he had not yet seen the government's reasons for rejecting the application.
Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety, a watchdog organisation monitoring the GM industry, welcomed the move. "This is the first time (the government) has refused a new variety of GM crop on food safety grounds. "It is a historic decision and sets a very important precedent," Mayet said. She said the government's earlier rejection of GM sorghum and GM cassava was on environmental grounds. She said the enzyme used in the GM maize for biofuels came from a microscopic marine organism.
© 2007 Independent Online. All rights strictly reserved.

PRESS RELEASE - Johannesburg 26 March 2006
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) and US based Centre for Food Safety welcome the resounding rejection by South Africa's regulatory authority of Syngenta's GM maize for fuel ethanol. During May 2006, the ACB and the Center for Food Safety (US) opposed, on food safety grounds, Syngenta's application for commodity clearance of its GM maize event 3272, the first GM industrial crop for which commercial approval (whether for cultivation or import) has been sought anywhere in the world. South Africa's GM regulatory body, the Executive Council, rejected the GM maize application on the most damning biosafety grounds, namely, that Syngenta had failed to provide convincing proof of food and feed safety even if the primary intended use is ethanol production.
"The rejection by South African authorities of the world's first GM industrial crop confirms our long-standing concerns that GM crops can in fact be hazardous to human health, and that biotech company studies purporting to demonstrate safety are grossly inadequate," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety. The EC expressed great concerns at Syngenta's failure to submit crucial biosafety data and found Syngenta's compositional studies, broiler chicken feeding studies, and its agronomic performance studies to be hopelessly inadequate. The ACB especially welcomes the EC's finding that Syngenta had not adequately assessed the GM maize for its potential to cause allergies, based on the presence of a novel enzyme with allergenic properties. The EC urged Syngenta to adhere to methodologies for evaluation of allergenicity as developed by the FAO/WHO and conduct additional studies. The final nail in the coffin for Syngenta was the finding that Syngenta's GM maize for ethanol would contaminate non-GM maize in SA and thus pose an unacceptable risk to South Africa's export market.
Bill Freese (US) 202-547-9359 x14 - Mariam Mayet (SA) 083 269 4309
The full objection can be viewed at Reasons for the rejection can be obtained from Mariam Mayet

South Africa 20 March 2007 - The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) and GRAIN, congratulate the South African GMO regulatory authority, the Executive Council, for refusing to allow the experimentation of open field trials of GM cassava. The Executive Council (EC), comprising of ten officials from diverse government departments, denied an application brought by the Agriculture Research Council (ARC), to release GM cassava into the South African environment. ARC's interest in the GM Cassava is to genetically improve its starch content to be used as feedstock for a burgeoning biofuels market. According to the EC, it found that ARC provided inadequate information regarding the stability of the traits involved as well as the potential for gene flow and thus could not conduct a proper assessment of the risks posed by the GM cassava to the environment.
Cassava is one of the oldest cultivated crops and provides the primary source of calories for 600 million people in the tropics, especially tropical Africa. "It is appropriate that the South African government should be concerned about gene flow of GM cassava as it has a responsibility to small-holder farmers all over Africa that depend on cassava to feed their families. The narrow and misguided focus on GM cassava and biofuels will exacerbate the destruction of biodiversity, loss of local markets, and the contamination of farmers' varieties and wild species of cassava," said Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of GRAIN.
Late last year, the EC also rejected an application to conduct experiments involving GM Sorghum. Currently, South Africa also has a de facto moratorium on the approval of all new GM varieties for the purposes of import into South Africa. "We are cautiously watching a small but significant change taking place in South Africa with regard to GM regulation and we will continue to exert pressure on the South African authorities," said Mariam Mayet of the ACB.
Contact details:
Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, GRAIN, 082 413 0502
Mariam Mayet, African Centre for Biosafety, 083 269 4309
1.For information about the GM sorghum rejection and the de facto moratorium, see 'Africa's Sorghum Saved: Applause for Second GM rejection' and 'Is SA in the US WTO Sights Over GM Import Ban?'
2.The ACB and GRAIN have submitted comprehensive objections to the field trials, supported by NGOs and individuals, and these can be viewed at
3.Last year the Donald Danfoth Centre's GM virus-resistant varieties of cassava, developed seven years ago, failed dismally when it lost resistance to the African Cassava Mosaic Virus Disease (CMVD), see 'GM Cassava Fails in Africa'.

Africa's Sorghum Saved: Applause for second GM sorghum rejection - African Centre for Biosafety - 2ndFebruary, 2007
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) hails the decision taken by the Executive Council (EC)-South Africa’s GM regulatory body on the 30 January 2007 to turn down an application by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's (CSIR) to conduct experiments with genetically modified (GM) sorghum in a level three containment facility.
This decision was taken against the backdrop that Africa is the centre of origin for sorghum where (including in South Africa), a large number of sexually compatible weeds, wild relatives strains and races of cultivated sorghum occur.
While the EC will make its reasons for the rejection available in due course, it previously (in June 2006) turned down a similar application when it cited environmental concerns about gene flow from transgenic sorghum to South Africa’s biodiversity.
The ACB lodged an objection to the application and raised strong concerns that GM sorghum would introgress into wild relatives. “Some activities just cannot be permitted and should be regarded as NO GO options” said Mariam Mayet, founder of the ACB.
“The risks posed by GM sorghum to sorghum wild and weedy relatives cannot be tolerated at all and the granting of a permit will be tantamount to a licence to contaminating Africa's heritage. Even containment in a level three facility will not negate the concerns that will remain, if the GM sorghum was to be tested in open field trials with the objective of commercialisation” said Mayet.
This decision is a severe and final blow to the African Biotechnology Sorghum Project (ABS), bankrolled by Bill and Melinda Gates to the tune of millions of dollars, to bring GM sorghum to Africa’s poor. The ABS is spearheaded by a consortium, which includes Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Florence Wambugu’s Africa Harvest Biotechnology International, Rockerfeller Foundation-backed African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the CSIR, the Agricultural Research Council etc.
Mariam Mayet 083 269 4309

Dear friends and colleagues
The African Centre for Biosafety offers this briefing paper to you, titled "Monsanto's Seed of Hope Campaign in South Africa".
In the briefing, we offer information about Monsanto's Seed of Hope Campaign in the Eastern Cape-the poorest of South Africa's nine provinces, where Monsanto's project was subsidised with huge chunks of public funds, which enabled it to penetrate extremely impoverished communities - first by introducing a Green Revolution type package as an important precursor to the introduction of its GM maize seeds, ably assisted by Bayer Cropscience, amongst other players.
During September 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a donation of $150 million to contribute to a "Second Green Revolution" in Africa to alleviate poverty and hunger. The money will be used, amongst other things, to promote technology packages for small-scale farmers containing fertilizer and new seeds. The aims of this new Green Revolution for Africa is very similar to Monsanto’s Seeds of hope campaign and is likely to benefit the seed and fertilizer industries, while having negligible impacts on total food production and further marginalizing African rural areas.
The South African government has a close and intimiate relationship with Monsanto and other mulitnational corporations. However, we continue to struggle against injustice in South Africa. In April, South African NGO, Biowatch SA's appeal against Monsanto will be heard when Biowatch will try to overturn a court ruling that it must pay Monsanto's legal costs - "punishment because it won a legal case forcing the South African government to grant them access to information about GMO decision making in SA. We urge you to support our work in SA- to stop the onslaught of GMOs, the march of the Green Revolution in Africa, and the Biowatch court case.
Mariam Mayet
African Centre for Biosafety -
Download the briefing paper here as a pdf file (88 kb)

GM grapes earn wrath of growers - BOBBY JORDAN - The Sunday Times, 22 October 2006
The University of Stellenbosch's planned planting of 'super-grapes' has top wine exporters seeing red
AN EFFORT to produce South Africa's first genetically modified Chardonnay wine has sparked ferment among top winemakers, who want the country's wines to remain 'pure'. The 'super-grapes' already in incubation inside a greenhouse at the University of Stellenbosch, are due to be grown at the university's experimental farm. But the trial first needs the go-ahead from the government's Executive Council on Genetically Modified Organisms, which will debate the matter next month amid a chorus of opposition from wine authorities, including premier estates such as Spier, Lanzerac and Distell. This week the national Wine Council, chaired by former Cabinet minister Kader Asmal, opposed another application from the university - to use genetically enhanced yeast in wine production.
The row over super-grapes highlights a broader spat over GM foods such as maize, soya and cotton, which are already widely cultivated in South Africa despite concerns about possible health risks and environmental contamination. A Free State University study has found traces of GM ingredients in 90% of soya products and 61% of maize products tested from the local market. Maize meal is one well-known GM product. South African companies at present do not have to label food products containing GM material unless they show 'significant difference' from other products - a term yet to be clearly defined.
Wine farmers opposed to GM foods fear their non-GM grapes might become contaminated by GM seed, which in the case of wine would be a disaster for the country's eco-friendly reputation. Anti-GM lobby groups such as Biowatch South Africa also warn of intellectual property issues - the patents on GM organisms are retained by the companies that produce them. However, pro-GM scientists and companies believe GM crops offer significant benefits such as resistance to disease and higher nutrient content. They argue that GM products are already widely available throughout much of the developed world as well as in South Africa. About 30% of yellow maize and 10% of white maize is already derived from GM crops. Among other things, GM grapes could lower alcohol content in wines and reduce headaches resulting from particular grape sugars.
GM maize is resistant to some harmful weeds and bugs, thereby reducing the need for pesticides. Some GM herbicides contain insect genes that make crop sprays more effective. Dr Sarita Groenewald, GM field trial manager at Stellenbosch University Institute for Wine Biotechnology, said the whole point of the GM trials was to produce more environmentally friendly grapevines. Groenewald said: 'It is really vital that we do these trials. The actual aim is to produce a grapevine that can be used in more environmentally friendly production on wine farms. These trials are for research purposes only.' Groenewald said the trial site would be completely sealed off to minimise the risk of contamination. All flowers would be bagged and grapevines covered with nets to prevent seed dispersal by birds or other animals during fruiting stages. 'The genes that have been inserted into these plants [come from] from E. coli, which is generally present in nature anyway,' Groenewald said.
But Leslie Liddell, director of Biowatch South Africa, said: 'The nets and bagging of flowers will not ensure that small insects and micro-organisms don't get to the GM plants.' GM vineyard trials are a thorny issue in several other wine-producing countries, including the US and France, where science is making inroads in the fight against harmful crop viruses. A GM vineyard under lock and key in Colmar, the heart of France's famous Alsace wine region, has angered fiercely traditional French farmers, some of whom say they'd rather live with viruses.
South African winemakers this week expressed concern about the university's ability to completely isolate its vineyard trial. The head red winemaker at Spier Estate, Kobie Viljoen, said even the slightest exposure to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as a GM yeast, could contaminate a wine cellar and have serious repercussions for wine exports. 'For us on the production side, GMOs are a no-go,' he said. The head of grape and wine buying at Distell, Ernst le Roux, said consumer doubts about GM products outweighed the need for innovation in agriculture. 'From a commercial point of view we can't afford to even say we are thinking of using this [GM] material,' Le Roux said, adding that Distell had no plans to buy GM grapes. 'We won't be pressing to make it legal either.'
Consumer doubts are well founded, according to Chris Viljoen, head of the University of the Free State GMO testing facility in the faculty of Plant Sciences. 'Most scientists who are pro-GM have no problems with GM plants. But when you talk about producing GM babies then suddenly viewpoints become quite varied. One wonders if people would want labels on GM human beings,' he said. 'This debate is not about accepting or rejecting technology. It's about making sure that technology is relevant. One can't just say because we used technology to produce something then we have to use it because it's better.'

South Africa: protests at Stellenbosch transgenic grapevine experiment - Groups say contamination risks are unacceptably high - Source: Grape News
As Grape previously reported, the first plantings of genetically modified grapevines into the South African vineyard were announced a few weeks ago by Stellenbosch University's Institute for Wine Biotechnology (IWB). Now the African Centre for Biosafety and Earthlife Africa Ethekwini have called on the government to reject the Institute's application to conduct its open-air field trials involving genetically modified (GM) vines.
The IWB's Grapevine Biotechnology programme has thus far pursued its research into transgenic grapevine plants only in greenhouses and laboratories, and says it wants to conduct field trials to properly assess performance. The plan is to plant nearly a hectare of the vines on the University's Welgevallen experimental farm on the outskirts of Stellenbosch.
The protesting groups say that 'the risks of contamination of adjacent fertile grapevine varieties by the GM cultivars are unacceptably high', and that they 'threaten South Africa's lucrative wine export market, especially to the European Union ... where consumers are still reeling from the recent contamination scandal involving illegal GM rice'.
The African Centre for Biosafety says it has assessed the IWB's own risk assessment - which it descibes as 'scanty' - and that it "relies heavily on inconclusive, outdated and abandoned biosafety studies conducted in Germany by the Institute for Vine Breeding". Those field trials of GM grapevines had, it further suggests, not run their full course, because the transgenic vines failed to offer resistance to fungal pests as hoped.
Vanessa Black of Earthlife Africa says that GM vines "do not work, are not needed, and place the environment and South Africa's export markets at unnecessary risk". The statement issued by the two environmentalist groups says that the the IWB "hopes to eventually produce GM grapes for use as food (table grapes) and wine from the Chardonnay grapes, but no indication has been given by the IWB of what the future intention of these particular field trials is, and the claimed purpose of the trial is 'proof of concept' only".
Whereas the university Insitute had said that the transgenic vines will be covered with nets "to prevent seed dispersal by birds or animals", opponents of the programme say that "the chances that adjacent grapevines of fertile varieties will be contaminated by these GM trials are extremely high". "The Chardonnay berries contain 2-4 seeds per berry and seed dispersal is possible by humans and animals, notably birds. There is a possibility that animal exposure might occur after rain and storms where grape berries could drop to the ground and escape from the site in rain water".

PRESS RELEASE - Issued by the African Centre for Biosafety and Earthlife Africa[1]
Johannesburg 15 October 2006. The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) and Earthlife Africa Ethekwini (ELA), are calling on the South African government to reject an application by the Institute for Wine Biotechnology (IWB) based at the University of Stellenbosch, to conduct open-air field trials in South Africa, involving genetically modified (GM) Sultana and Chardonnay grapevine varieties. The groups believe that the risks of contamination of adjacent fertile grapevine varieties by the GM cultivars are unacceptably high, and thereby threaten South Africa's lucrative wine export market, especially to the European Union - South Africa's biggest export destination, where consumers are still reeling from the recent contamination scandal involving illegal GM rice.
The African Centre for Biosafety has independently assessed the Institute for Wine Biotechnology's scanty risk assessment and discovered that it relies heavily on inconclusive, outdated and abandoned biosafety studies conducted in Germany by the Institute for Vine Breeding (IVB). Indeed, the ACB has found that field trials of GM grapevines had been stopped prematurely by the German Institute, because the varieties, which had been genetically modified to possess resistance against fungal pests, failed hopelessly as they were found to be as susceptible as conventional vines. "Genetically Modified grapes do not work, are not needed, and place the environment and South Africa's export markets at unnecessary risks" said Vanessa Black of Earthlife Africa.
According to the Institute for Wine Biotechnology's application, it hopes to eventually produce GM grapes for use as food (table grapes) and wine from the Chardonnay grapes, but no indication has been given by the IWB of what the future intention of these particular field trials is, and the claimed purpose of the trial is "proof of concept" only. "The chances that adjacent grapevines of fertile varieties will be contaminated by these GM trials are extremely high" said Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety. "The Chardonnay berries contain 2-4 seeds per berry and seed dispersal is possible by humans and animals, notably birds. There is a possibility that animal exposure might occur after rain and storms where grape berries could drop to the ground and escape from the site in rain water" said Mayet.
"The proposed field trials run the risk of European consumers rejecting South Africa's wine because they fear that it will become contaminated by the experimental GM grapevines. This is a real fear, because already, GM rice grown in experimental field trials in the United States in 2001, has turned up illegally in the EU in the last few months, costing the US rice industry billions of dollars. The same could happen to the South African wine industry, with disastrous consequences for our economy as a whole" said Vanessa Black from Earthlife Africa.
The South African wine industry produces a million tons of grapes annually and supports approximately 300 000 people. The total wine production in South Africa during 2005 was 9.05 million hectares, with a projected production level of 9.63 million hectares for 2006. South Africa's major export destinations for wine are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Canada.[2] According to Wines of SA, the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Finland alone accounted for 83% of SA's wine exports in 2004.[3]
The scientific assessment is available upon request from
Contact: Earthlife Africa Ethekwini: Vanessa Black (+27 (0) 82 472 8844) - African Centre for Biosafety: Mariam Mayet (+27 (0) 83 269 4309)
[1] The ACB and ELA are members of the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering (SAFeage,
[2] United States Department of Agriculture, World Wine Situation and Outlook Commodity and Marketing Programs-Processed Products Division Market Access and Analysis Group August 2006 -

Can the Poor Help GM Crops? Technology, Representation & Cotton in the Makhathini Flats, South Africa - Harald Witt, Rajeev Patel & Matthew Schnurr
Review of African Political Economy - Vol. 33, No. 109 (Sept. 2006): 497-513 -
ISSN 0305-6244 Print/1740-1720 - Online/06/030497-17 - DOI: 10.1080/03056240601000945
The adoption of Genetically Modified (GM) cotton in South Africa's Makhathini Flats in 1998 was heralded as a case in which agricultural biotechnology could benefit smallholder farmers, and a model for the rest of the continent to follow. Using historical, political economic and ethnographic data, we find the initial enthusiasm around GM technology to be misguided. We argue that Makhathini's structured institutional framework privileges adopters of GM technologies through access to credit and markets. The adoption of GM cotton is symptomatic not of farmers' endorsement of GM technology, but a sign of the profound lack of choice facing them in the region.
Recent literature in development journals has taken a robust and optimistic view regarding the potential of Genetically Modified (GM) crops to regenerate the agricultural sector in the global South... One of the most widely cited success stories has drawn on the experiences of small-scale farmers cultivating GM cotton in the Makhathini Flats in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The stakes in the assessment are of concern elsewhere on the continent. Cotton farmers in West Africa have, for example, found it difficult to compete with cotton produced in the United States, because of the high levels of government subsidy enjoyed by cotton producers there. In response, the US has chosen not to reduce its subsidies, but offered GM cotton technology to farmers in West Africa, despite the fact that producers there are second in productivity only to Australia (Greenberg, 2004). In the promotion of GM cotton as suitable for African farmers in toto, the success story of Makhathini plays a key role. Yet precisely because the local circumstances are stripped away from any assessment of GM cotton's suitability, farmers' choice of GM seed can be represented and misrepresented as an endorsement of the technology, and by extension, an invitation to apply it elsewhere.
This study examines the adoption of GM cotton in the Makhathini Flats area, contextualising the laudatory findings of some researchers (see, e.g. Thirtle et al. 2003), and placing Makhathini's cotton monoculture in a longer history of imperial export agriculture, technology and policy. We draw on thirty in-depth interviews with the leaders of cotton-growing associations, interviews with local government officials, growers and processors, suppliers of inputs, together with debt data from regional and national creditors, data from the cotton industry, the findings from three workshops involving a total of 80 farmers from the area, as well as survey data covering 50 residents.
We begin with a brief history of cotton farming in KwaZulu-Natal, observing the development of a cotton monoculture destined for export, which GM technology extends. We then outline the limited choices facing cotton farmers, from a macro-economic, institutional and micro-local perspective. We suggest that, in the light of current evidence, the considerable favourable attention accorded the Makhathini cotton farmers is indicative not of the appropriateness of the technology, but a symptom of a development policy and lifescience industry which is keen for the technology to succeed. We argue that the adoption of GM cotton in the Makhathini area is symptomatic not of an endorsement of GM technology, nor a step on the road to regenerating the agricultural sector, but rather a sign of the profound lack of choice facing farmers in the region. Following Ferguson (1990), we conclude that the technology represents an anti-politics machine - offering a technological solution to a series of political problems around differentiated access to markets, and access to state resources including credit, agricultural extension services.
The development of cotton in Makhathini suggests that the success story of GM cotton has been ascribed a prematurely happy ending.
...the MCC has recently relaunched its website, hosting a 2005 news article from the 'life-sciences' industry-funded Council for Biotechnology Information (Company, 2005; Council for Biotechnology Information, n.d.) in which T.J. Buthelezi claims: 'Normally, at the end of the year, I would ask my wife how we are going to pay our bills,' he says. 'Now I ask her, how are we gonna spend this money?' Our interviews with Buthelezi, as well as with other leading cotton farmers, contradict this rather favourable scenario.
We have shown that farmers on the Makhathini Flats adopt Bt cotton not because they consider themselves to be innovative adopters of biotechnology, but because agrarian choices are severely limited. The principal intervention in the bringing of GM cotton to the region has been the facilitation of access to cotton markets for local farmers. Absent from the area has been any serious and consistent engagement by government to offer genuine sustainable alternatives or to promote a viable model suitable to small-scale agricultural development. In this context the rhetoric of 'GM technology helping the poor' seems to serve the needs of the promoters of the technology, rather than the residents of Makhathini. With the spectre of similar interventions haunting other parts of Africa, sanctioned through the 'success' of Makhathini, we sincerely hope that this prioritisation can be reversed.

GM CASSAVA FAILS IN AFRICA - Mariam Mayet, African Centre for Biosafety -
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (the "Danforth Center"), whose partners include Monsanto Corporation and the Missouri Botanical Garden, has been heavily involved in research on transgenic varieties of cassava for the past seven years. According to the Danforth Center's website, it has been pursuing a Disease-Resistant Cassava for Kenya Project, with funding from USAID, in order to develop and deliver transgenic, disease-resistant cassava planting materials to farmers in Kenya to increase their harvests and improve their food security.
However, on the 26 May 2006, the Danforth Center quietly announced that it had discovered that GM virus-resistant varieties of cassava, first developed seven years ago, had lost resistance to the African cassava mosaic virus (CMVD) and that expert consultants had been asked to review why and how the modified cassava had changed and to assess future plans.[i] This failure underlies the reason why African governments, save for pro-GM South Africa, have adopted the precautionary principle and not allowed Africa to be turned into a laboratory for an unpredictable technology.
According to the Danforth Center press release, the group reviewed the data and concurred with the conclusions that resistance to the African CMVD was achieved in cassava line Y-85, "that the resistance was subsequently lost, and that methylation of the plant's DNA had taken place." This failure undermines the claim on the Danforth Center's website that "transgenic plants developed at the Danforth Center have demonstrated strong resistance to the disease in greenhouse trials over multiple years."[ii]
This turn of events also undermines plans by the Danforth Center's International Programs Office to push Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) to test transgenic cassava plants under natural field conditions. Clearly, the kind of promises held out by the Danforth Center on its website are no longer credible: "virus-resistance technology will initially be deployed in the East African region's most popular cultivar - Ebwanatareka - for adoption by the 22,000 Kenyan farming families
. the project will help 200,000 Kenyan cassava farmers and their families and increase cassava harvests by 50% on a sustainable basis." Similar benefits are promised to neighbouring Uganda and to millions of farmers throughout Africa.
This is not the first time that these kind of false promises have been held out to KARI, which previously ran field trials on a much hyped transgenic sweet potato - part of another USAID supported project. The sweet potato had been touted as high-yielding and virus-resistant, but during three years of field trials KARI discovered the virus resistance was no better than for ordinary varieties and the yields were sometimes less. By contrast, a conventional breeding programme in Uganda successfully produced a high-yielding virus-resistant sweet potato more quickly and more cheaply, without any recourse to genetic engineering.[iii]
The Danforth Center is also involved in sequencing the cassava genome.[iv] In what seems to be a dramatic about turn from its previous commitment to address hunger and the nutritional needs of people in developing countries, Dr Claude Fauquet, of the Danforth Center revealed in a press release, that the "acquisition of the cassava genome sequence will
provide a platform to explore the vast biodiversity within cassava wild species. Ultimately, these activities will position cassava as a valuable source of renewable bio-energy." According to the U.S Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), funder of the project, the DOE JGI chose to sequence cassava because it is an excellent energy source - "it is grown worldwide as a source of food for approximately 1 billion people, raising the possibility that it could be used globally to alleviate dependence on fossil fuels."[v]
The cassava genome project is spearheaded by a consortium made up of the Danforth Center, the USDA, Washington University in St Louis, the University of Chicago, the Institute of Genomic Research, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Broad Institute, Ohio State University, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, and the Smithsonian Institute.
[i] Danforth Center Cassava Viral Resistance Review Update; and Danforth Centre, Cassava Update
[iii] Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails, New Scientist, Vol 181 No. 2433, 7 February 2004
[iv] Danforth Center Spearheads Effort to Sequence Cassava at National Research Center - 18 July 2006.
[v] Danforth Center Spearheads Effort to Sequence Cassava at National Research Center - 18 July 2006.

GM crops and DDT - connect the dots - By Glenn Ashton
Jasson Urbach attempts, on behalf of the neo-liberal Free Market Foundation (FMF), to make a case that genetically modified (GM) crops are necessary to improve the food security of Africa (African farmers have most to gain from GM crops, Cape Times, August 10, 2006). This is not the first time Urbach has attempted to hoodwink the public with pseudo-science. He recently (Cape Times, July 10) penned a paean of support for DDT as a mechanism to reduce the incidence of Malaria in Africa. In that article he directly compared the toxicity of DDT to coffee, beer and peanut butter and went so far as to claim that there was no substantial evidence to show DTT was dangerous to humans. Besides the tacit admission that DDT thus does affect other living organisms besides humans, Urbach?s claim of lack of evidence of danger to humans is incorrect. A study by the University of Berkley showed the ability of DDT to slow childhood development. Another study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Services showed a strong relationship between prematurely delivered and low birth weight babies and mothers' blood levels of DDE, the metabolic breakdown product of DDT. It is not by chance that international health interests have called for its total withdrawal.
In his new crusade for the adoption of GM crops for Africa, Urbach is just as determined not to allow a few facts stand in his way. He blithely ignores that since GM cotton was adopted in South Africa we have lost over 56, 000 jobs in what is a small local agricultural sector. Job losses in the rest of our commercial agricultural market have been equally precipitous. GM crops have been developed in order to increase the efficiency of mechanised and chemical dependent agriculture, not to benefit African people. While South Africa has grown GM crops since 1997, we have seen no concurrent increase in food security in relationship to their adoption. Urbachs claims that GM crops yield higher and reduce chemical use are equally flawed. The worlds most widely grown GM crop, Monsanto?s herbicide (weed killer) resistant soy, has a demonstrably lower yield than most conventional varieties and since its introduction into Argentina, the use of this herbicide has increased from 13.6 million litres in 1998 to over 150 million litres in 1995.
The free market foundation, by these and other claims, simply demonstrates its credentials as a comprador for unfettered corporate intervention. It is notable that both DDT and GM crops are pushed by chemical corporations such as Monsanto, which controls the licence on the vast majority of GM seed sales in South Africa. The FMF epitomises what President Mbeki recently referred to as 'market fundamentalism' in his notable Nelson Mandela lecture, which he hinted at replacing with a more developmental model. This is precisely what opponents of GM claim - that GM agricultural crops were developed for intensive, industrial agricultural models. They are absolutely the wrong solution for Africa, which needs more people-centred, developmental state intervention for and on behalf of local farmers.
Resistance to GM crops in the Southern African region exist not simply because of their health and environmental dangers, but equally because they are devised in order to consolidate control of the agricultural supply chain. State support for GM technology should be replaced by direct support for our farmers in adoption of non-dependent, relevant technology. GM crops are not, as asserted, rejected for frivolous reasons. After all what could be more frivolous than Urbachs claim that biosafety - necessary for the containment and management of potential hazards of GM crops - is not meant to avoid risks? I suppose we simply wish to manage these unique, man-made organisms to produce more food then? Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes? What about African heirloom maize varieties, bred for their local vigour and pest resistance, which stand to be lost to contamination by patented genetic traits, aggressively punted by both northern corporate and state interests? What about the supposed genetic 'improvement' of sorghum, a crop endemic to Africa, facilitated by precisely the same interest groups, echoing the same snake oil sales talk as Urbach?
The solution to African problems is not necessarily dependent upon the wholesale adoption of western models of development. Contrarily, it can be shown that these have all too often failed to achieve their aims - look no further than the Green Revolution that failed spectacularly in Africa. The new green revolution - the supposed genetic revolution in farming - will fail just as certainly, for its is based on the same flawed premises and assumptions. But it will fail at far greater cost to our people than ever before, at a time when our people need a variety of wholesome foods, not a glut of intensively farmed monoculture crops, devised for commodity and export markets. Africa can feed itself. Countless remarkable examples have been demonstrated to increase food crop yields by up to 300%, simply by using relevant and applicable technological interventions to suit local needs. Instead of being adopted they are sidelined by this obsessive focus on GM crops by vested interests. Africa can provide for itself, but not by being taught to fish by self-interested corporate 'welfare'. It can, and must provide for itself using modern tools. These may include biotechnology, which Urbach yet again dishonestly equates to GM, when GM is really a specific sub-set of the technology, founded on outdated science, that again, just happens to be controlled by corporate interests.
The FMF is a wolf in sheep's clothing if ever there was. GM crops shift focus from real solutions to our local hunger crisis. Such simplistic statements as "Subsistence and small-scale farmers in Africa have the most to gain from adopting these technologies," show how low the whores of industry will stoop, when precisely the opposite is true. These are the farmers that have the most to lose. Their seeds, their independence and their self- determination. But then again, the FMF is not one to let a few facts stand in its way.
Ashton is the Chairman of the Steering committee of SAFeAGE, the SA Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering, a representative and mandated citizens network opposed to GM technology in our food and demanding the full labelling and identification of GM products in our diet. This article is written in his personal capacity.

South Africa's ban on GM import approvals
South Afric's pro-genetic engineering (GE) stance is well documented[1] and enshrined in national government policy.[2] During the period 2001-4, South Africa's Executive Council (ExCo)[3] established under the Genetically Modified Organisms Act ("GMO Act") has allowed the importation into South Africa of millions of tonnes of cheap genetically modified (GM) maize[4], much to the delight of the animal feed[5], meat and dairy industries in South Africa.
During September/October 2005, the ExCo took a decision not to approve any more new[6] GM applications for the purposes of importation into South Africa as food, feed and processing (also known as commodity import applications). This decision was taken by the ExCo in order to accommodate the serious concerns raised by one of the ExCo members, the national Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), regarding price distortions of GM maize and its concomitant negative impacts on the South African economy as a whole. Nevertheless, the decision affects all new GM commodity import applications.
Currently, the DTI is studying these impacts and early indications are that price distortions indeed exist. It is anticipated that it will be some time yet - perhaps up to one year, before the EC is in a position to take a final decision to either lift or confirm the temporary ban. Much work still lies ahead for the Exco, including the conducting of open and transparent public consultations and debate.
In the meanwhile, none of the spate of applications for the import of new varieties of GM maize lodged before the ExCo's temporary ban, or those that have been lodged thereafter, including Syngenta's GM maize for ethanol,[7] and Bayer's LL GM rice,[8] can be approved in South Africa. Interestingly, South Africa does not allow any imports of GM maize from the United States because the US has approved many more GM maize varieties for commercial growing than has South Africa. Since the US has failed to put in place a mandatory traceability system, it is not possible for the South African authorities to enforce its zero tolerance for unapproved GMOs because the risk of contamination is just too high.
One of the major areas of concern for the South African government must be the fact that no GM variety should be approved in South Africa for importation purposes, unless the same variety has also correspondingly been subject to the rigour of a full appraisal for commercial growing in South Africa. In other words, can the South African government fail to oppose a situation where imports of GM maize into South Africa are given a competitive advantage over domestic producers in South Africa with regard to that same GM variety? Specific concern centres around the fact that the imported maize could also be used for domestic production purposes, considering that the importers cannot guarantee that imported GM maize will be immediately milled and only be used for human and animal consumption, or fed as whole grain to animals.
The African Centre for Biosafety ("ACB") has with the support of many groups in South Africa such as Earthlife Africa, South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering (SAFeAGE) and Biowatch South Africa, launched objections to a large number of GM maize applications.[9] It has, when objecting to Monsanto's application for food safety clearance for the importation into South Africa of GM maize line MON 863 and MON hybrids Mon 863 X Mon 810 raised several serious concerns. Amongst these is the need for an enquiry into impacts on the domestic production of non-GM maize in South Africa, the distortions in the market place caused by the sale of GM maize, the predatory pricing policies of international grain exporters such as Cargill and Louise Dreyfus and the huge subsidy regimes available to them by their governments that assist them in obtaining market domination and displacement of local producers and placing at risk, thousands of jobs in the agricultural sector and related industries.[10]
Commercial maize farmers organised under the auspices of GRAIN SA have opposed import applications for GM maize expressing the Cry3Bb1 and Cry1Ab proteins respectively[11] and more importantly, for taking a firm position to oppose "the importation of any GM maize as a commodity for local consumption which cannot also be produced locally."[12] In other words, they oppose any GM application for the importation of GM grain, where no corresponding permit also exists for its commercial production, in line with the position expressed by the DTI.
According to GRAIN SA, enormous pressure is currently being placed on local producers who want to service the export market to develop an identity preservation system and use it to produce, store and transport GMO and non-GMO maize separately. The same requirements, to establish the GMO status and certify the identity must therefore also apply they say, to overseas producers who want to enter the South African market.[13]
Traceability and Identity Preservation
The ACB has already written about the quiet revolution taking place within the food industry in South Africa concerning segregating and preserving the identity not only of GM varieties from their conventional counter parts but also, of the individual GM events within and between different GM varieties and species.[14] However, this is all done on a voluntary basis to secure overseas markets and more importantly, these measures are not legally enforceable vis-a-vis imports of GMOs into South Africa.
Civil society in South Africa are not convinced that the current de facto ban on new GM import approvals in South Africa will be lifted in the near future, and if it is lifted, it is very likely that it will be subject to the introduction of several new stringent biosafety measures. These are likely to include mandatory traceability and identity preservation systems for imported and exported GMOs, and the need for commodity clearance permits to be issued only in respect of GMOs that are also approved for commercial production in South Africa.
Mandatory traceability and identity preservation systems are topics of intense interest in the food industry in South Africa, and are issues that governments throughout the world are discussing, especially in the light of the successful resolution of the infamous Article 18(2)(a) of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety at the Third Meeting of the Parties (MOP3) that took place in Curitiba, Brazil during March 2006.[15] It is our view that in the light of the de facto identity preservation systems operating in South Africa, the agreement reached in Curitiba already requires exports from South Africa to be accompanied by documentation that clearly and positively labels the shipment as "contains" GMOs[16] and provides the additional detailed information as required by the Protocol.[17] This will thus necessitate far-reaching legal and trade reforms by virtue of the fact that domestic industries will clamour for similar treatment to be applicable to imports of GMO commodities.
The United States, the world's largest producer of GMOs, has already effectively used the threat of World Trade Organisation (WTO) sanctions
against developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, Bolivia, South Korea and Thailand when these countries tried to ban or restrict imports of GMOs in adopting biosafety measures.[18]
A well known example of such bullying is the WTO complaint lodged by the US, Canada and Argentina against the European Commission (EC) on the basis that the EC had a de facto moratorium on GMO approvals that resulted in "undue delays" and were therefore in violation of WTO rules. National bans put in place by some EU member states on specific products had also been challenged as being WTO inconsistent.
Will the US accept new stringent biosafety measures for GM imports in South Africa especially if those are tantamount to delays in approvals for imports of new GM maize varieties for up to 3 or 4 years? Certainly, the interim report of the World Trade Organisation's Dispute Settlement Panel in the US/EU dispute[19] does not question the sovereign right of any country to put in place strict biosafety legislation to regulate GMOs,[20] including a decision to reject an application related to a GMO.
1. See,;, to name just a few websites recording the steady march of GMOs into South Africa's agriculture and more recently, also, in the realm of medical applications, concerning GE HIV vaccines.
2. A National Biotechnology Strategy for South Africa, Department of Science and Technology June 2001
3. The Exco is the decision-body comprising representatives from various national government departments.
4. The UN's commodity trade database shows a total of around 2.3 m tons of maize and maize seed imported over the period 2001-04, but the GMO permits show an import of 2.86 million tons in the same time. There are many different ways that maize enters the country, and it's possible that it could enter in some semi-processed form for animal feed.
5. The animal feed industry is organised and represented by the Animal Feed Manufacturers Association (AFMA)
6. Here we are referring to GM events or hybrid GMOs that had not previously been approved in South Africa.
7. Comments By The African Centre For Biosafety And The Centre For Food Safety (USA) Comments On Syngenta's Application For Commodity Clearance Of Genetically Modified Maize, Event 3272 African Centre for Biosafety & Centre for Food Safety, 29 May 2006
8. Submission Of Objections By The African Centre For Biosafety Objections To The Application Made By Bayer Cropscience Gmbh In Respect Of A Commodity Clearance Application For Event Llrice62 To The National Department Of Agriculture, South Africa
African Centre for Biosafety, supported by various organisations, groups, companies, and individuals, Jun 2006
9. These include the following: Bt-Maize 176 / Syngenta; Bt-Maize MON863 and MON863 ; MON810 / Monsanto; Bt-Maize TC1507 / Dow AgroSciences; Bt-Maize GA21 / Syngenta; Bt-Maize 59122 / Pioneer HiBred RSA & Dow Agroscience Southern Africa; Bt-Maize 1507 X 59122 (HERCULEX XTRA) / Pioneer HiBred RSA & Dow Agroscience Southern Africa; Bt-Maize MIR 604 / Syngenta; Bt-Maize 59122 X NK603 / Pioneer Hi-Bred; Bt-Maize MON89034 and MON89597 / Monsanto; Bt-Maize 1507x 59122 x NK 603 / Dow Agrosciences; Bioethanol-Maize 3272 / Syngenta, see
10. Mariam Mayet and Shenaz Moola, August 2004 Objections to the Application Made by Monsanto South Africa for a Commodity Import Permit of Grain for Feed and Food Purposes that may Contain Maize Grains Derived From Insect-Protected Maize Line Mon863 and Maize Hybrids Mon863 X Mon810
11. Grain SA opposes untested GMO maize Business Day, South Africa, by Justin Brown 7 Jul 2004,3523,1654407-6078-0,00 html
12. Personal Communication, GRAIN SA, 3 February and 1 December 2005
13. Personal Communication, GRAIN SA, 3 February 2005
14. Mariam, Mayet, Case Study: South Africa?s traceability and segregation systems for GM grains Briefing Paper 4, Briefings for MOP3, Third World Network
15. For a detailed analysis of the agreement, see Lim Li Lin and Lim Li Ching Analysis of the MOP 3 Article 18.2(a) Decision, Third World Network, South-North Development (SUNS) Number 5992, March 2006 and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety-3rd Meeting of the Parties (MOP-3) T&E Info Exchange
16. In terms of the agreement reached in Curitiba, in cases where the identity of the GMO is known though means such as identity preservation systems, then the shipment must be identified as "contains" GMOs.
17. The information that must be provided include details that the GMOs are not intended for intentional introduction into the environment, the common, scientific and, where available, commercial names of the GMOs, the transformation event code of the GMOs or, where available as a key to accessing information in the biosafety clearing house (BCH), its unique identifiers code and the internet address of the BCH for further information.
18. These cases of US style aggression is discussed in a briefing document prepared by Greenpeace The US War on Biosafety Renewed Aggression by a Rogue State, June 2004.
19. "European Communities-Measures Affecting the Approval and Marketing of Biotech Products" where the US, Canada and Argentina were complaining parties and the European Communities (EC), the defendant. The 1050 page interim report is confidential and only made available to the parties to the dispute, but the conclusion and recommendations are in the public domain, see
20. See, Friends of the Earth International Briefing Paper Looking behind the Spin: WTO ruling does not prevent countries from restricting or banning GMOs February 2006.

NO GATEWAY TO AFRICA'S SORGHUM - from The African Centre for Biosafety
The African Centre for Biosafety, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, applauds the decision by the South African GM regulatory body to turn down an application by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to conduct laboratory and greenhouse experiments with transgenic sorghum in South Africa. The Executive Council (EC) established in terms of South Africa's GMO Act, refused the application on biosafety grounds, fearing that GM sorghum will lead to the destruction of the sorghum varieties prevalent throughout Africa.
This decision represents a severe blow to the African Biotechnology Sorghum Project (ABS), bankrolled by Bill and Melinda Gates to the tune of $450 million to bring GM sorghum to Africa's poor. The ABS is spearheaded by a consortium, which includes Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Florence Wambugu's Africa Harvest Biotechnology International, Rockerfeller Foundation-backed African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the CSIR, the Agricultural Research Council, Ghana's Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and University of California, Berkeley.
Notwithstanding the "lofty" agenda of the ABS, the EC has for the first time deemed it prudent to protect an African cereal in the face of huge international funding. The African Centre for Biosafety warmly welcomes the decision by the EC as sorghum is an extremely important crop for Africa, having unique abilities to withstand the harsh environmental conditions on the continent.
Sorghum seeds have been discovered at an ancient site in Nabta Playa in Southern Egypt, dating the seeds back to 8000 years. Early domestication of sorghum took place near the Ethiopian border, west though Sudan and up to Lake Chad. Today, there are several varieties of sorghum being grown in several countries in Africa. Although sorghum only represents 3.5% of the total cereal production, sorghum is of great importance to Africans especially where traditional agriculture predominates.
Issued by Mariam Mayet, 10 July 2006 -

GM food - is it safe or not? Sheena Adams - Tuesday, April 18, 2006
BLOEMFONTEIN - Ground-breaking new trials using both animals and human cells to test the safety of genetically modified food products will begin soon at the country's only GM testing facility in the Free State.
Also called Frankenfoods, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been the subject of a raging worldwide debate for several years, with scientists divided over how safe they are to consume. Many agree that while tests have so far failed to show conclusively that GMOs are bad for your health, no long-term tests have ever been attempted. The project by the GMO testing facility at the University of the Free State has been described as the first "generational study", and will see scientists feeding a diet of GMO maize and soya beans to families of rats, mice and lambs over several years. The head of the facility, Professor Chris Viljoen, said this would be the first study of its kind in the world, but results would not be forthcoming for at least three years. He added that the large-scale study was still dependent on the facility finding donors to fund the project, which he hoped to begin early next year.
"A lot of research we are funding ourselves, because the whole issue regarding GMOs is an emotional one. The fact that we are a facility that does testing means most people consider us to be anti-GM - it's actually quite ironic - and because of that, there are a number of scientists in South Africa who don't think what we are doing is important," Viljoen said. State-sponsored bodies such as the National Research Foundation had so far turned down proposals for funding into GMOs. GMO watchdog Biowatch has meanwhile welcomed the announcement, saying GM products were "sneaking into our food chain" in the absence of compulsory separation and labelling of GM products.
GM crops have been in South Africa since 1997 and the country is one of only eight around the world which grow the crops commercially. It is estimated that about 50% of South Africa's soya crop is genetically modified, as well as about 10% of its white maize crop, 24% of its yellow maize and about 85% of its cotton. However, tests conducted by Viljoen's team at the beginning of this year on randomly selected soya and maize products on supermarket shelves showed that 90% of soya products and 61% of maize products tested contained traces of GMOs. These included products like Ace, Blue Bird and Impala maize meal, Snowflake self-raising flour and the Old El Paso Taco Kit - none of which were labelled as containing GMOs.
The Department of Health published regulations pertaining to genetically modified food in 2004, making it mandatory for products containing GMOs to be labelled as such if it "differs significantly in composition, nutritional value, mode of storage, preparation or cooking" from its corresponding organic product. However, Biowatch has pointed out that a "significant difference" is defined in the regulations as existing only where characteristics are different in terms of a scientific assessment of an "appropriate analysis of data". This means, in their view, that the regulations are in no way compulsory. While Woolworths has undertaken in the past to remove all GMO products from its shelves, other large retailers have not followed suit. Health Department spokesperson Solly Mabotha acknowledged that the regulations did not do enough to ensure compulsory labelling and said new draft regulations which would ensure this were at "an advanced stage".
Viljoen's team will be looking for things such as whether the GMOs elicit immune responses in animals, anatomical changes such as abnormalities in the intestinal tract, weight loss or gain, and reproductive health. "I am often perceived as being anti-GM because I'm asking questions… That becomes perceived as anti-GM because there seems to be a real fear that accepting or rejecting GM is about accepting or rejecting science, and it's not," Viljoen said. He added that the trials would ensure that if South Africa wants to license a GMO for commercial use in the future, the country would have the methodology necessary for the stringent, compulsory testing. He found it "astounding" that, several years after opening shop, his GMO facility was still the only one in the country.
© 2006 Independent Online

South Africa: Testing to begin on genetically modified foods - By Stephanie Saville - 11 Apr 2006
Independent tests on the health effects of genetically modified crops, due to start soon in South Africa, have been welcomed by watchdog groups. The tests will start soon at the University of the Free State's Genetically Modified Organisms Testing Facility. Professor Chris Viljoen, who heads the independent testing facility, said that trials with animals
should take about three years to complete. After these, the testing facility would look at general allergic responses in humans. Leslie Liddell, Director of Biowatch, a non-governmental watchdog group, said so far studies on GM crops which have been released and commercialised suggested there were no long-term negative impacts. "But in many cases scientists linked to the clutch of powerful multinational companies which dominate the seed industry have conducted these tests." GM crops have been in South Africa since 1997 and the country is one of only eight countries world-wide which grow GM crops commercially. Tests undertaken by the testing facility last year showed that 90 percent of soy products and 61 percent of maize products tested contained traces of GMOs. Increasingly GM products are sneaking into the food chain. In the absence of compulsory separation and labelling of GM products, South African consumers have been deprived of their right to choose whether to eat GM food. And farmers who opt for the GM-free route are being prejudiced. Fifteen small-scale farmer groups have endorsed a Biowatch South Africa statement calling for compulsory labelling and separation of GM products. Twenty-five scientists have also called for certain criteria to be met before the commercial release of a GMO.
© 2006 Independent Online

Stand firm against push to legalise terminator gene crops - February 13, 2006 -
Despite promises to the contrary, industry groups, backed by government delegations from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, recently showed their commitment to introducing so-called "terminator genes" into crops by attempting to overturn a moratorium on their use... From Glenn Ashton, Cape Town
The eighth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on biodiversity, concluded in Grenada, Spain at the end of January, agreed to defer a decision on overturning the ban on terminator crops until March's meeting in Brazil. Terminator technology is one of the most controversial genetic modification (GM) technologies because it produces sterile seeds. This intervention in the natural order is widely condemned, especially among developing nations that depend heavily on saved seed to maintain food security and sovereignty.
As the representative for Uganda, David Hafashimana, said on behalf of the African group at the meeting, the technology undermines the rights of, especially, small-scale farmers and communities to save their seed for the next planting season. This also undermines food security and its impact could be disastrous for Africa. This technology is being pushed by the US government, which controls patents on terminator technologies. Because the US has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, it uses proxy governmental and industry inputs to promote its agenda. There are two primary interest groups pushing this technology, both with ties to government and industry. The first are the corporations such as GM giant Monsanto, responsible for more than 90% of global GM food production, which wish to halt the illegal sharing of their patented seeds.
Terminator technology will force farmers to return to corporations to provide seed, enforcing a cycle of dependence. Monsanto last year became the world's biggest seed company. The second interest group is the industry-aligned scientific establishment, which is convinced that there would be wider acceptance of their products if they could be guaranteed to be contained by virtue of being sterile. Present GM crops have been demonstrably promiscuous. Using terminator genes, experimental crops could supposedly be grown without fear of contamination. However, this overlooks the essential problem that one of the two parent lines, either male or female, must be fertile for the plant to set seed, enabling the terminator genes to spread in much the same way that existing GM seed has spread through pollen transfer.
Terminator technology has been widely criticised as possibly one of the most ill-advised concepts devised by the GM industry. That the US government shares patents in this technology is ominous, potentially shifting control of international seed supplies into the hands of the world's superpower.
The renewed push to introduce terminator technology into nature remains an anathema. It is essential for developing nations to reject this move to introduce a profoundly disruptive threat into global agriculture.
Glenn Asthon, Cape Town

SA researchers find traces of modified food in local maize - By Tamar Kahn - Business Day, January 27, 2006
CAPE TOWN - Traces of genetically modified organisms can be found in nearly three-quarters of locally sold maize and soya products that claim to be free of these ingredients, researchers at the University of the Free State have found. This meant that thousands of consumers who buy products labelled "genetically modified organism-free", "nongenetically modified" or "organic" may be eating food containing gene-altered ingredients, said Chris Viljoen, director of the university's genetically modified organism testing facility. Food producers and retailers were not deliberately misleading consumers, he said, as there were currently no guidelines or standards defining these terms in SA.
SA is the only African country that grows genetically modified crops on a commercial scale. An estimated 24% of yellow maize, 10% of white maize, 50% of soya and 85% of the cotton production in 2004 was genetically modified, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a global industry body that promotes genetically modified technology in developing countries.
Viljoen and his colleagues randomly selected 58 maize and soya products from supermarket shelves, and tested them for gene-altered components. The results, published in the latest edition of the African Journal of Biotechnology, show 44 (70%) of the food products contained genetically modified ingredients. Fourteen of the 20 products labelled genetically modified organism-free, nongenetically modified or organic tested positive for genetically modified organisms. These included products as diverse as soy milk powder, "vegi" steaks, cornflakes, maize meal and self-raising flour. The findings highlighted the need for effective regulations to protect consumers against misleading claims, said Viljoen. "There is no regulatory body controlling labels, so how much of it is accurate. Inaccurate labelling is not illegal, but it has implications for consumers," he said.
South African law currently does not require food producers to label goods containing genetically modified components. Different countries used various standards, complicating matters still further for consumers who purchased imported foodstuffs, said Viljoen. For example, some countries considered "genetically modified organism-free" to mean zero genetically modified, while others applied this term to foods with less than a specific threshold. In the European Union, "organic" implied zero genetically modified organisms, while the US agriculture department allowed a 5% threshold for "organic", he said.
Pick 'n Pay deputy chairman David Robins said the retail group believed government should introduce mandatory labelling of food containing genetically modified ingredients. "We don't have a position on whether it's good or not, but people should know what they are buying" the deputy chairman said. Robins said the retailer did not stock products claiming to be free of genetically modified organisms as the firm did not have confidence in the truth of these assertions. Woolworths said it had decided in 1999 to remove or replace ingredients from genetically modified crops wherever possible, or to label affected products. Since 2002 it has labelled all products that might contain ingredients derived from genetically modified crops.
Copyright © 2005 BDFM Publishers (Pty) Ltd

GMOs Threatening Seed Industry - Ronald Kalyango - New Vision (Kampala, Uganda), January 27, 2006 -
STAKEHOLDERS of the Centre for Development Initiatives (CDI) of the African Biodiversity Network of South Africa have expressed concern about the likely extinction of the indigenous seeds if the country adopts Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). "There is a risk of contaminating our indigenous crops from fields planted with GMOs through cross-pollination. We may lose our indigenous seed security through contamination with GMO genes," said Bridget Nabikolo, the CDI programme coordinator. She was recently speaking to reporters at their offices in Kamwokya, Kampala. Nabikolo said GMOs would bring high costs to farmers because the seeds are patented by the corporations that sell them. "Patented seeds mean that seed saving is forbidden and we must buy new seeds each season," she said. Many small-scale farmers, will be unable to bear the additional cost of buying expensive patented seed each season," added Nabikolo. She said the likely fear of contaminating our agriculture and seed with GM0s would lead to loss of export markets to countries that have already rejected GM foods. Nabikolo added that this would lead to the perpetual enslavement of small farmers by corporations that is to say by controlling all the seed and forcing us to buy on their terms, season upon season. GMOs do not address the real problems of food insecurity in Uganda. "GMO seeds will cause total dependence of the farmer on the corporations. If we are forced to buy seed every season, and lose our seed saving practices and seed heritage, we will lose ownership, sovereignty, independence and our dignity. We will have no choice over our seed and be forced to accept only what is on the market," she added.

Religious groups worried about GM foods - By Wendy Jasson da Costa - IOL (South Africa), January 19 2006
South Africa's faith communities are planning to petition major food retailers to label all genetically modified foods, according to Bishop Jeff Davies from the SA Council of Churches. The labelling of GM, or genetically modified, food is not compulsory in the country. "We believe it is essential to know what we are eating. We hope you, in parliament, will help us," he told members of parliament on Wednesday. Davies was one of many representatives from religious and civil society organisations, including small-scale farmers, environmental groups and lobbyists, who participated in parliament's public hearings on its Genetically Modified Organisms Amendments Bill. Davies told MPs that although he, like the government, supported biotechnology it was necessary to affirm the precautionary principles in the Bill. "Many scientists and biotechnologists are very naughty," he said. "They're not making a distinction between selective breeding, which human beings have been doing for millennia, and genetic engineering." He said all faith communities - Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims - had the same concerns regarding genetically modified products. "With genetic engineering, we are tampering with the structures of life that have taken millions of years to evolve and we have the arrogance to think that we can improve on them in 10 years... to transfer a gene from one species into another."
Referring to the impact of GMOs on religion Davies said: "You know we have kosher and halaal food. How, then, do we define a tomato with a fish gene?" He said he knew that many people were concerned about genetic modification because humans were playing God without knowing what the consequences would be. He also called for a moratorium on the use and importation of genetically modified food until SA itself had tested the products and not just accepted the word of Monsanto - one of the world's biggest providers of genetically modified seed - that it was safe. According to Davies, many people, especially those in the business community, would "deride" environmentalists for their concern, but he said it was important that "we should do things the African way and not try to emulate Big Brother in America".
Pick 'n Pay's deputy chairperson David Robins welcomed the call for labelling on Wednesday, saying the supermarket chain would support the campaign 100% so that customers would know what they were eating. Robins said Pick 'n Pay had not "critically investigated" every item on its shelves to determine whether it contained GMOs, but soya was a product that would not qualify. Earlier this week, chain store Woolworths said: "All Woolworths products that contain ingredients that could be derived from GM crops are labelled. The ingredient in question is marked with an asterisk which, in turn, refers to a statement at the bottom of the ingredient label that reads as follows: "*May be genetically modified". The group said it had undertaken to remove or replace ingredients derived from GM crops wherever possible.

PRESS RELEASE - African Center for Biosafety and Friends of the Earth Nigeria - January 10, 2006
Johannesburg (South Africa), Lagos (Nigeria), January 10, 2006 - Ten years after the first significant planting of Genetically Modified (GM) crops there are no apparent benefits for consumers, farmers or the environment, and despite renewed promises by biotech corporations, there has been no impact on hunger and poverty, according to a report by the African Center for Biosafety and Friends of the Earth International. [1] The 100-page report "Who benefits from GM crops? Monsanto and its corporate driven genetically modified crop revolution" concludes that the increase in GM crops in a limited number of countries has largely been the result of the aggressive strategies of the biotech industry, rather than the consequence of benefits derived from using GM technology.
"Contrary to the promises made by the biotech industry, the reality of the last ten 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 the hunger question in Africa or elsewhere," said Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Nigeria. The biotech industry continues the misleadingly claim that GM crops play a role in solving world hunger in Africa and the world's largest producer of GM seeds, Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON), holds an oppressive influence over agriculture and food policies in many countries and international bodies. Several Western African Governments Burkina Fasso and other Governments in Western Africa have been under substantial pressure in recent years to rapidly introduce GM cotton.[2] In the meantime at the end of 2005, South Africa adopted a moratorium on new GM crops pending a study of the Department of Trade and Industry. "The moratorium on new GM crops in South Africa sends a clear signal of the failure of GM crops in our continent. GM cotton in South Africa did not solve our farmers problems, on the contrary it has contributed to increase their indebtedness. The rest of African countries where Monsanto is promoting Bt cotton should learn from our experience".
The new report states that:
* GM crops in Africa will not solve hunger. Most GM crops commercialised so far are destined for animal feed, not for food, and none have been introduced to address hunger and poverty. GM Bt cotton in South Africa's Makhathini Flats has been widely promoted by Monsanto as an African small farmer/GM success story and a solution to poverty. However, since 2000 the number of Bt cotton farmers in South Africa has lessened, many of them incurring losses and defaulting on their loans, raising strong questions about the impact of GMOs on poverty reduction
* - Monsanto-funded Kenyan sweet potato fails. GM sweet potato in Kenya was presented as a key GM crop to help African agriculture. However by the end of January 2004, and more than US$10 million later, the results of the trials were quietly published in Kenya, showing that none of the claims were true. The results revealed that the non-GM sweet potatoes had yielded significantly more than the GM variety.
- A moratorium in South Africa. In November 2005, despite having introduced GM crops in several hundred thousand hectares, the South African government communicated that it had placed a moratorium on import approvals, pending the outcome of a socio-economic study that the Department of Trade and Industry.
* GM crops are not 'green'. Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, the most extensively grown GM crop today, has led to an increase in herbicide use. Independent reports from the US show that since 1996, GM corn, soybean and cotton have led to an increase in pesticide use of 122 million pounds (55 million Kilos). The intensive cultivation of soybeans in South America contributes to deforestation, and has been associated with a decline in soil fertility and soil erosion.
After ten years of GM crop cultivation more than 80% of the area cultivated with biotech crops is still concentrated in only three countries: the US, Argentina and Canada.
In Nigeria: Nnimmo Bassey, Friends of the Earth Nigeria - Tel: +234 8037274395 (mobile) +234 52602680 (office)
In South Africa: Mariam Mayet, African Center for Biosafety - Tel: P: +27 (0)11 646 0699 C: +27 (0) 84 683 3374
[1] The executive summary of the report is available from January 10 at
The full report is available upon request from
[2] A four-page 'Key Facts of a decade of GM crops' is available from January 10 at:

Most in SA Reject GM Foods - Claire Keeton - Johannesburg - Sunday Times (Johannesburg), December 10, 2005
ALMOST six out of 10 South Africans either reject or avoid genetically modified foods, according to the results of a poll. But a quarter of the 505 adults surveyed about GM foods said they were happy to eat them. The Research Surveys poll also showed that at least one in three people did not have much knowledge about GM foods. The results of this survey, conducted in Joburg, Durban and Cape Town, highlighted an improved level of knowledge from a poll on GM foods in 2001. That survey, however, indicated more support and less suspicion around GM foods than the latest one. Then, almost 40% agreed with the use of modern biotechnology to improve the nutritional value and taste of foodstuffs. The majority agreed that GM foods should be specially and clearly labelled.
Government regulations published in January last year do require the labelling of GM foods that differ significantly from the existing foodstuff; have allergens, eg from crustaceans; contain genetic material different to its origin (eg, if a plant derived food has genetic material from an animal or human).
In South Africa the commercial production of GM maize, cotton and soy beans has been approved. Other crops like wheat are being grown in experimental field trials. The Genetically Modified Organisms Act is the law under which GM foods are controlled.

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.

Praise for GM maize ruling - News 24, 28 October 2005 -,,2-7-1442_1825155,00.html
Johannesburg - Environmental group Biowatch SA on Friday said it welcomed the moratorium placed on genetically modified (GM) maize imports into South Africa. There have been no maize imports into South Africa since March 2005. The grouping also welcomed the study by the department of trade and industry (DTI) to assess the implications which GM maize imports have on SA's trade. SA was one of the few countries, which allowed the importation of GM maize for commercial purposes, Biowatch said. The effect of GM maize imports would be to depress the price of maize and also to hinder robust exports to markets abroad where consumers don't want GM products. The DTI had informed Biowatch SA that the study on the implications of GM maize imports to South Africa was due to be completed early in 2006, said Biowatch SA. However, the DTI is also conducting two other studies into GM products. One of these was investigating the implications of GM products within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. Most SADC countries have rejected GM products. The other study was looking at the implications for South Africa as an exporter of GM products. "The results of these studies, we suspect, will show that government has to take a much firmer stand on this risky new technology," Biowatch said. The studies were also likely to suggest that the government should make it easier for farmers who wished to enter the lucrative niche markets in Europe and Asia by putting in place mechanisms for compulsory separation and identification of GM products, Biowatch added. "We trust the initiative taken by the DTI will be followed by other departments," the grouping said. "Besides the potential negative implications for trade and pricing, GM crops have a range of other potentially negative impacts and, to date, this new technology has not been shown to have any major benefits to justify the risk of introducing it," said Biowatch.

Commodity imports into South Africa of GMOs have been halted

Dear Friends
The African Centre for Biosafety has now been in existence for just over 2 years and after our consistent badgering through inter alia submissions and objections regarding GM applications, and in the light of the recent successful application by Monsanto to win approval of its stacked GM cotton, we were about to re-think our work. But we have now just heard that all applications for commodity imports into South Africa of GMOs have been halted pending the outcome of a study that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has just commenced, which is looking at the impacts of GM imports.
This study is something that civil society groups in South Africa have long been calling for, many petitions have been filed to this effect by SAFeAGE in the past,
This is quite a significant victory for us and a blow for industry, taking into account the manner in which the entire GM issue has been handled in SA todate, with industry running amok here.
Please, note, however, the assessments of applications for commodity imports are continuing, but no decisions will be taken.
For further information, please contact Elise Koekemoer from the DTI, agro-processing.
Regards, Mariam
Mariam Mayet
The African Centre for Biosafety -

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.

In response to the letter published on 26 June 2005 in Business Report, and an identical letter circulated widely on behalf of the same farmers by Hans Lombard, a public relations consultant to the biotechnology industry, we would like to reiterate the findings of our research that genetically engineered Bt cotton has not created a flourishing cotton farming community in Makhathini as presented to the world, and has not been able to help them overcome the challenges that African cotton farmers face.
The letter refers to a study done by the University of Reading and University of Pretoria which demonstrated the purported benefits of Bt cotton for Makhatini farmers. However, a recent review published by these same authors, in the March 2005 edition of AgBiotechNet, confirms that the situation was not sustainable and acknowledges the problems of drawing conclusions from one season - a point that raises questions about the findings of the original study.
In India, similar trends are emerging; in May 2005, the Indian regulatory authority withheld licenses for the commercial cultivation of three varieties of Bt cotton in Andra Pradesh, following the release of studies showing their dismal performance over the past three years and severe social and economic impacts. In China, zero yield gain has been reported for Bt cotton although pesticides have been reduced, primarily because of an over-use of pesticides by Chinese farmers prior to Bt cotton.
Biowatch research results were presented to Makhatini farmers at a research feedback meeting on 17 September 2004. The farmers that attended this meeting agreed with our research findings. Cleary there are different opinions amongst Makhatini farmers and the situation is more complex than that presented.
It should be noted that Biowatch has not yet published the results of its five-year research project, and that the research referred to by the authors of the letter reflects only extracts of Biowatch's research. Biowatch's final word on the matter will be encapsulated in research that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal later this year.
Leslie Liddell - Director - Biowatch SA

G8 SUMMIT: Africa Needs Food Security, Not Experimental Crops - Stefania Bianchi - Inter Press Service (Johannesburg), July 1, 2005
As world leaders prepare for the Group of 8 (G8) summit next week, a leading global consumer body is warning that genetically modified food is not the "miracle solution" to world hunger and malnutrition. While large biotechnology corporations, and some governments, try to promote genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution to food shortages and malnutrition, Consumers International (CI) insists there is no evidence that GM crops will solve those problems. "Genetic modification will not solve world hunger. The supposed benefits of GM have not been proven to outweigh potential risks to the environment, human and animal health. It would make more sense to put scarce money in other technologies that are more ecologically and economically suited to poor farmers and consumers," Amadou Kanoute, director of CI in Africa said in a statement Wednesday. London-based CI, which works to put consumer rights and social justice at the centre of the international development agenda, is calling for G8 leaders to focus on food security in Africa. It warns that claims made by biotechnology companies are detracting attention from real causes of hunger in Africa, such as the lack of access to and distribution of food, as well as internal conflict and poor infrastructure. CI says African farmers are faced with unfavourable international trade rules and although they are keen to improve farming methods, the use of GM crops could do more damage than good.
GM crops are created by inserting genes from different plants or even animals into a species to provide it with special attributes, such as resistance to pesticides. The process is completely different from conventional breeding techniques, and has yet to be proven safe. The first major GM food was introduced on the market in the mid-1990s. Since then, GM strains of maize, soybean, rapeseed and cotton have been marketed and traded nationally and internationally in several areas. GM varieties of papaya, potato, rice, squash, sugar beet and tomato have also been released in some countries. The production of GM crops has increased significantly over the last decade, but the issue has provoked bitter controversy. Supporters say they will increase yields, but opponents argue that they could have unpredictable health risks. Other major concerns are increased control of the food chain by corporations, and misleading claims about solving food supply problems and about the benefits of GM crops to farmers, CI says. At the heart of the problem, adds the organisation, is the fact that GM crops are promoted with "aggressive zeal" by biotech corporations, raising the hopes and expectations of farmers and communities. Unfortunately, CI says, many of the proposed "miracle solutions" end in failure.
"African countries are concerned about bio safety, and the consequences of introducing GM food without proper, independent, human safety evaluations and environmental assessments," David Cuming, GM campaigns manager with CI, told IPS on Thursday. "At present, African countries do not have the proper regulatory framework in place to cope with GM. Yet they are being pushed very hard by the biotech corporations, and the American government, to introduce it quickly," he added. CI says GM food is also poorly suited to African farmers in part because it is expensive. "In Africa, farmers save their seeds to use the following year. When they use GM seeds they are forced to buy them each year so destroying their food production systems. This puts control of the food chain in the hands of a small number of unscrupulous biotech corporations," Cuming said. Instead of spending millions of dollars on what CI calls "a grandiose biological experiment without a clear idea of how it is supposed to help African consumers", the group says governments and corporations should seek inspiration from alternative solutions. "A large part of food shortages has to do with food distribution and access. Despite what the U.S. government wants people to believe, GM food is not the only food available. If other food is available, shouldn't Africans be able to choose?" Cuming asked.
Rather than discussing the possibility of using GM foods in Africa -- a topic that is expected to be included in next week's talks - CI says G8 leaders should look at ways to develop sustainable farming as a potential solution to the hunger crisis in Africa. "This is about making the most of resources that farmers have in order to end poverty in rural areas. There have been several successful sustainable farming developments in Africa, including pest control for maize and drought tolerance in rice," Cuming said.
GM & Africa resources
*for more on the push to force GM into Africa:
*USAID in Africa - new report -
*have you signed on to the "Africa and the G8" statement? -
*check out some of the sites on GM in Africa: Biowatch South Africa -
Africa Centre for Biosafety -
Pelum-Zambia -
Earthlife Africa -
Environmental Justice -

Call for genetically modified food ban - SABC News, June 15, 2005 -,2172,106620,00.html
More than 20 environmental, faith-based and food security groups have called on government to ban genetically modified (GM) food. The call for the ban stems from fears that GM maize might be contaminated with Bt 10 -- a variety of maize which contain genes from antibiotics and ampicillin. Glenn Ashton, spokesperson for the lobby groups, said in a media statement today: "South Africa has extremely weak biosafe regulations and no inspection of grain imports takes place, leading to a significant risk that our food supply has been similarly contaminated." The maize is produce by US company Syngeta Corporation. "Maize contaminated by Bt 10 increases the risk of antibiotic resistance, particularly for vulnerable populations and those being treated for HIV and Aids," said Ashton. The European Union had already blocked imports of GM maize unless the shipment carried proof that the maize was Bt 10 free. Ireland and Japan, both importers of maize from the US, recently found consignments to be contaminated with bt 10. Both nations had put testing measures in place, Ashton said.
Grain South Africa estimates that a minimum of 1.981 million tons of maize was imported by South Africa between 2001 and 2004. "The South African groups are calling for the South African government to take immediate steps to test all shipments of GM maize as well as products on the South African markets." As part of the Cartagena protocol on Biosafety, South Africa must take a zero tolerance stance. "Where contamination is found, products must immediately be recalled from the market and Syngeta must compensate for any losses suffered by establishing a fund for this purpose," Ashton said. - Sapa

'Bizarre' GMO law helps firms, not consumers - Wendell Roelf - Cape Times, June 01 2005
South Africa is in the "bizarre" position of having liability provisions in law that mean users - not producers - will be liable for any consequences of consuming genetically modified organisms (GMOs). "A provision like that looks like the fingerprint" of industry and multinational companies, an attorney specialising in environmental law, Cormac Cullinan, said on Wednesday. He was a member of a delegation who spoke to members of the portfolio committee on science and technology on the safety and regulation of GMOs. Cullinan said he had not encountered a provision like South Africa's in any other law and he believed it was not in the country's interests.
'Information is skewed in favour of large companies'
He appealed for more transparency and a fundamental "re-look" at the regulatory framework of GMOs in the country, which companies were using as "a giant laboratory". The regulations made it difficult, "if not impossible", for civil society to participate in decision-making. "I don't believe the regulatory system complies and conforms with the constitution." Decisions were taken behind closed doors, with available risk assessments of GMOs based on information gathered outside the country and on species not even found in South Africa. "Information is skewed in favour of large companies," Cullinan said, adding that scientists here remained silent for fear of losing research grants.
'The public has a right to know what we are buying'
Earlier, Glenn Ashton of environmental lobbyist group SAFeAGE, said South Africa stood almost alone in its failure to adhere to the African Model Law on Biological Resources. The GMO Act and its amendments "completely failed" to maintain the most minimal standards of the African Model Law or the United Nations-sponsored Cartagena biosafety protocol. "We, with the rest of Africa, are calling for the regulation of these technologies to be enacted in a transparent, meaningful, inclusive manner that upholds mutually agreed scientific, ethical, legal and moral standards." The regulation of science had to be in the public interest and could not be slanted towards vested interests, Ashton said. He implored MPs to ensure there was a meaningful biosafety regime. Bishop Geoff Davies of the South African Council of Churches said the patenting of life by corporations was "immoral". It was clear the consequences of genetic tampering were unknown. "If we are going to play God, let us know what is going to happen." It verged on the criminal that GMO food didn't have to be labelled. "Without being told, South Africans became the first people in the world to eat genetically engineered white maize. The public has a right to know what we are buying and eating."

Despite claims that Bt cotton will catapult African farmers out of poverty, recent reports revealed that the majority of Bt small-scale cotton farmers on the Makhathini Flats in South Africa have stopped planting Bt cotton because they cannot repay their debts. A five year study by Biowatch South Africa, has shown that small-scale cotton farmers in Northern KwaZulu Natal have not benefited from Bt cotton and that the hype surrounding this case is just that - a media hype created by American biotechnology companies to try and convince the rest of Africa why they should approve genetically modified crops. A summary of this study has just been published in GRAIN's quarterly magazine, Seedling (available at
Bt cotton is genetically modified (GM) to be an insecticide, supposedly eliminating the need to spray against bollworm, saving on insecticides and increasing yields. However this study shows that Bt cotton has failed on a number of fronts: farmers are in debt and credit institutions have withdrawn from the area because farmers cannot repay their loans and the number of farmers planting cotton has dropped by 80% since 2000. One farmer commented: "Four years ago we were told we would make lots of money but we work harder and make nothing".
A recent three year study of Indian small-scale farmers in the Warrangal district, Andra Pradesh, echoes these findings: farmers are in debt as a result of increased cost and lower yields (12% less than non-Bt cotton) and there has been little difference in pesticide reduction (see full report at
In Makhathini, Bt cotton compounded the problems that African cotton farmers typically face. After the introduction of Bt cotton, the Makhathini farmers were hit with droughts and low cotton prices. Since Bt cottonseeds are double the price of non-GM cotton, farmers increased their debt to be able to plant it, thereby increasing their risk. Only four farmers of the total sample of 36 Bt cotton farmers followed in the study made a profit. The net loss for these 36 farmers was US$ 83,348. Such debt and income problems are rampant for Makhathini farmers. According to a local Land Bank official, farmers in Makhathini owe an average of US$ 1,322 per farmer and around 80% of them have defaulted on their loans.
Mr Lawrence Mkhaliphi, who did fieldwork for the study and is based in the area said that: "The damage is increasing for the local farmers and their livelihoods are negatively impacted on." He added that the responsible government departments are not aware of the situation on the ground. The South African government has instead been very supportive of GM crops, putting in place biosafety legislation to accommodate the biotech industry.
Makhathini was the GM industry's showcase for how transgenic crops can help the poor. Monsanto, the US company that owns the patent on the technology, and USAID have brought African scientists, farmers, journalists and other opinion makers in droves to Makhathini. In 2003 the chairman of the local farmers' association, Mr TJ Buthelezi, was flown to the US to stand next to Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative, when he announced that the US will take the EU to the World Trade Organisation to challenge its stand on GM crops and food. "With the Makhathini miracle is now in tatters, the GM industry is bound to dig up another 'success story'", said Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, one of the researchers. In South Africa, the GM industry has already shifted its attention to the promotion of GM maize, citing yields of up to 400% for small farmers in areas such as Hlabisa. She added that: "It would be wise to keep in mind the rise and fall of the Makhathini farmers whenever the industry talks about the benefits of GM crops for the poor".
South Africa was the first African country to introduce GM crops but field trials for Bt cotton are taking place in Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Egypt, while countries like Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Benin and Mali are heavily pressured to open their doors, despite their reluctance to do so. The study sends a clear warning to other African countries that Makhathini is not the fairy tale it is made out to be and that where African cotton farmers are already struggling to compete with the US on world markets, opening their doors to GM crops will only expose them to more risk and increase dependency on multinational companies.
NOTES: For more information or queries contact Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss at: Email: - Tel: +27 (0)22 492 3426 - Mobile: +27 (0)82 413 0502
GRAIN is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge. Visit for more information.
BT COTTON: GRAIN follows closely the latest news and documents on Bt cotton. Visit
The Seedling article "Bt cotton in South Africa: the case of the Makhathini farmers" can be found here:
A table on "Field trials and commercial releases of Bt cotton around the world" can also be found here:

A PROFILE OF MONSANTO IN SOUTH AFRICA - An information document produced by African Centre for Biosafety - April 2005 - download here as a pdf file (128kb)

Cape Town/Johannesburg, South Africa-According to research conducted by the African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa's commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) maize, soya and cotton has been grossly exaggerated by the biotechnology industry for propaganda purposes.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), an industry supported organisation, consistently tries to inflate the figures of GM plantings around the world to support the argument that GM crops are here to stay. Despite South Africa's permissive GMO laws, Monsanto South Africa has estimated production of its GM maize (MON 810 and NK603) in South Africa to constitute no more than a total of 6-7% of the area under maize, less than the ISAAA's estimate of 15-20% of GM maize grown during 2004. South Africa does not produce enough cotton for domestic needs and has to import the shortfall each year. In 2003/04 the area planted to cotton was less than one-fifth of the area under cotton in the late 1980s. Despite the dominance of Monsanto's GM cotton varieties, no more than 30 000 ha was planted to GM cotton in 2003, even though it represents 75% of the cottonseed planted in that year.
South Africa's soyabean industry is similarly small and no more than 41 000 ha of Monsanto's GM (glysophate tolerant) soya was grown in South Africa during 2004. However, during 2001-2005, just more than 67 000 tons of GM soya was imported for animal feed; equivalent to about 8% of South Africa's domestic soyabean production over the same period. This brings the total land under GM crops in South Africa to around 300 000 ha and not the 500 000 ha claimed by ISAAA.
Despite its historical status as a net exporter of maize, South Africa has become reliant on imports from Argentina and the US of enormous amounts of GM maize. GM maize imports during the period 1999-2005, estimated to be in access of 2.6 million tons (MON 810, Bt11, Bt176 and TA25) are equivalent to over 7.5% of the domestic production in South Africa in the 2001-2004 growing seasons. Almost all GM seed imported into South Africa contains Monsanto's technology.
The study also shows that South Africa is being used as a base from which to distribute GM food aid to the region. South Africa has also become an important country for GM seed bulking (propagating seed in volume for commercial use) and a base to produce GM seed for international distribution for experimentation/consumption. Alarmingly, the study shows that Monsanto, the globally dominant company in the agrochemical, seed and agricultural biotechnology sector has about 45% of the South African maize seed market share and almost the entire market share for wheat seed. In 2005, Monsanto had at least 15 yellow maize, 11 white maize, 17 wheat, 4 soybean and 5 sunflower varieties on the market. The recent acquisition of Seminis, the global vegetable company, with nearly 60 vegetable and melon seed varieties registered by Seminis South Africa gives Monsanto an entry point into the vegetable seed market. As the engine for the distribution of commercial seed into Southern Africa, control by Monsanto over South Africa's seed supply means control over Southern Africa's commercial seed supply. Monsanto has identified Brazil, India and South Africa as focal points for its efforts to expand into the developing world.
The South African government supports genetic modification in agriculture and has also used its own infrastructure and resources to encourage positive attitudes in the public. The state's support has allowed South Africa to become a base for expansion into Africa, for export of GM seed around the world and as an experimental base for new GM crops not approved elsewhere.
The full report "A Profile of Monsanto in South Africa" produced by the African Centre for Biosafety, April 2005 is available on
For further information contact:
Glenn Ashton (SAFeAge) 083 403 6263
Mariam Mayet, (African Centre for Biosafety) 084 68 333 74
Stephen Greenberg, Researcher, 083 988-2983
In South Africa
African Centre for Biosafety (
Biowatch South Africa (
Earthlife Africa (
GM Free Africa (
South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering (Safeage) (
Other useful info on Monsanto - (
Consumers International (
Corporate Watch (
Corporate Dirt Archives (
GeneWatch (
GMWatch (
Monsanto (
Monsanto South Africa (
Monsanto Watch (
Millions Against Monsanto (
Multinational Monitor (

The GM Bubble - Science in Society issue 22, summer 2004 - Subscriptions +44 (0)20 7383 3376 or online at
Claire Robinson questions ISAAA's inflated figures of GM crop uptake and planting
"India a key GM crop cultivator" ran a headline in the Times of India back in January. "India has made it to the list of top ten transgenic crop-growing nations," the paper reported, alongside what it called the "glowing figures" on "the global acreage of transgenic crops" and the number of farmers planting them - seven million in 18 countries, up from six million in 16 countries in 2002. The Times of India was not alone in its breathless account of GM crop expansion. Headlines around the world declared, "Frankenfood flourishing" and "Biotech crops continue rapid global growth". Every January, similar headlines appear when the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Association (ISAAA) publishes its "Annual Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic (GM) Crops." They are drawn directly from press releases sent out by ISAAA's agri-centers around the globe plus country-specific media briefings via worldwide teleconferences. ISAAA stands at the front line of a major public relations war, and as with all wars, the first casualty is the truth. Fortunately, a few are not taken in. India's Financial Express reported that despite ISAAA's hype about India being "a key GM crop cultivator", the actual area planted with India's first GM crop, Bt cotton, is minuscule in terms of the total area devoted to cotton in India. According to an internal report of the country's agriculture ministry, "In 2002-03, the first year of its approval for commercial cultivation, Bt cotton covered an area of only 38,038 hectares, representing only 0.51 per cent of the area under cotton in the period. In 2003-04, with good monsoon rains, the area under Bt cotton increased to 92,000 hectares. This area coverage under Bt cotton is almost negligible as compared to over 9 million hectares under cotton crop in the country. This points to the low acceptability of Bt cotton by farmers."
As well as engaging in selective spin about the popularity of GM crops among farmers, ISAAA stands accused of pumping up the planting figures. ISAAA's Southeast Asia director, Dr Randy Hauteau, while briefing the media, quoted ISAAA figures for Bt cotton plantings in India in 2003-04 of 100,000 hectares - a nearly 10% inflation of the agriculture ministry's figures. When questioned about the data and methodology underlying this claim, the Financial Express reported that Hauteau refused to comment. Hauteau was also unable, the paper reported, to justify claims made in the ISAAA study that "in 2003-04 almost one-third of the global biotech crop area was grown in developing countries." Although ISAAA's figures are quoted routinely by official bodies and even governments, the organisation is vague about how its figures are generated, referring only to their being "based on a consolidated database from a broad range of sources, including government agencies and other organizations in the public and private sector".
But Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex has shown the questionable validity of ISAAA figures. Analysing GM cotton farming in South Africa, he notes, "ISAAA implies that small farmers have been using the technology on a hundred thousand hectares. Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe - an industry coalition - suggests 5,000 ha of 'smallholder cotton.' The survey team [from the University of Reading, UK] suggests 3,000 ha." In other words, ISAAA's GM plantings figures are 20 times higher than even those claimed by a biotech industry source and more than 30 times greater than those from an academic survey. ISAAA's figures claiming increased profits to South African farmers from Bt cotton are also dubious, deGrassi points out. ISAAA argued that switching to Bt cotton allowed farmers to make an extra US$50 per hectare, whereas the University of Reading survey team found that farmers gained only US$18 in the second year. But deGrassi notes that in the first year, "Bt cotton non-adopters were actually $1 per hectare better off". As well as exaggerating the extent of GM plantings and profitability, ISAAA has given misleading figures on yields that have been discredited by subsequent scientific research findings. For instance, ISAAA's "Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops" for 1998 claimed yield improvements of 12% for GM soy over conventional soy, as reported by American farmers. However, a review of the results of over 8 200 university-based controlled varietal trials in 1998 showed an almost 7% average yield reduction in the case of the GM soy - the diametric opposite. It later transpired that ISAAA's figures were based on nothing more substantial than producer estimates.
Who pulls ISAAA's strings?
ISAAA is supported by cash from the GM industry. Its funders include Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred and the BBSRC (the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council). In other words, ISAAA's reports should not be considered as coming from an independent source. ISAAA's multi-million dollar budget is matched by high-profile industry board members past and present, such as Monsanto's Robert Fraley, Wally Beversdorf of Syngenta, and Gabrielle Persley, Executive Director of AusBiotech Alliance and advisor to the World Bank. ISAAA has no representatives, however, from farmers' organizations in areas like Africa.
One of ISAAA's goals is to "facilitate a knowledge-based, better informed public debate." To that end, ISAAA has three "Knowledge Centers": the "AmeriCenter" based at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; the "SEAsiaCenter" in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines; and the "AfriCenter" in Nairobi, Kenya. ISAAA's Africa office was originally headed by Florence Wambugu, the Monsanto-trained scientist who hyped the company's GM sweet potato around the globe until it was exposed as a failure earlier this year (see "Broken promises", this series).
Aaron deGrassi says that in Africa the ISAAA has "spun off a number of innocuously named pro-biotech NGOs", such as the African Biotechnology Stakeholders' Forum and the African Biotechnology Trust. Pro-biotech Western aid agencies have joined with these organizations to quietly conduct one-sided conferences at upmarket venues around the continent, such as Kenya's Windsor Golf and Country Club, aimed at swinging high-level officials in favour of GM. But critics allege that these forums are facades for large corporations; the NGOs consist of little more than a website and a few staff. In a report on ISAAA's activities in Asia, GRAIN concluded that its role was one of "promoting corporate profit in the name of the poor".
Claire Robinson is an editor with GM Watch www.gmwatch

Genetically modified organisms: govt to reveal all - Mail & Guardian, 25 Feb 2005
PRETORIA, South Africa - The Pretoria High Court has made an order compelling the government to provide information on all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) brought into or manufactured in South Africa. The court made the order on Thursday, on the application of the environmental lobby group Biowatch. Acting Judge Eric Dunn ordered the registrar of genetic resources, the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms and Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Thoko Didiza to provide Biowatch with access to data. The data relates to risk assessments accompanying requests for trials and commercial releases of GMOs, including field-trial risk assessments as well as commodity import and animal-consumption risk assessments.Biowatch must also be given access to information about all applications for permits and other authorisations submitted under the Genetically Modified Organisms Act. Information about all permits granted and all applications pending in respect of imports, exports, field trials and general releases must also be provided. This includes a description of the GMO, the name and address of the applicant and the purpose of the contained use, or release and location of use. The methods and plans for the monitoring of the GMOs, emergency measures in the case of an accident and the evaluation of foreseeable impacts -- particularly any pathogenic or ecologically disruptive impacts -- must also be supplied. The government bodies must also provide all records pertaining to: public participation since the commencement of the GMO Act; a register of academic and research institutions; the minutes of all meetings of the Executive Council for GMOs and its advisory committee; and records pertaining to all people currently represented on the advisory committee. They were also ordered to provide Biowatch access to all records pertaining to the areas of the field trials and commercial releases. However, Dunn ruled that Biowatch has no statutory right to be furnished with the exact coordinates of the locations of the trials and commercial releases. The registrar is entitled to refuse access to certain records on the grounds contained in the Promotion of Access to Information Act (which includes a refusal to reveal information that is confidential or contained trade secrets), but has to provide written reasons for such a refusal. Dunn said Biowatch established that it has a clear right to some of the information and that the registrar's failure to grant access to the information was an infringement of Biowatch's rights. However, he stressed that the environmental lobby group has no absolute right of access to information. He said biotechnology company Monsanto's bold denial that there has been "disastrously harmful experiments with, and releases of, GMOs" does not detract from Biowatch's point that GMO technology is unpredictable, and that public health and environmental safety issues arise from the use, control and release of GMOs. None of the respondents disputed that potential dangers existed in GMO experimentation. This could hardly be disputed since Parliament itself has recognised that statutory intervention is required for the proper governance of matters pertaining to GMOs, Dunn said. Dunn refused to make a full order about the legal costs, except to order Biowatch to pay the costs of biotechnology company Monsanto, which was forced to come to court to protect its interests.

For more current information and campaigning link up with Biowatch South Africa:

As participants in the first SACC consultation on GMOs held at the ESCOM Convention Centre, Midrand, South Africa from 26-28 May 2004:
We welcome the initiative taken by the SACC in convening this consultation on a topic which needs in-depth and more urgent and focussed attention by Christians and the churches.
We thank the organisers for providing us the opportunity to enhance our understanding of GMOs by means of a well-balanced program, thus enabling us to broaden and deepen our contribution to the debate. We were given the opportunity to listen to presentations from different sides of the debate, and to reflect on and affirm our own Christian and indigenous spiritual heritage and traditions.
We are concerned about:
1. The manner in which complex issues on GMOs are treated by proponents of GMOs and South African legislation in a 'purely technical' manner, delinking science from ethics, values, economic and political ideology, and our African communal spirituality about life and food.
2. The link between the promotion of GMOs and neo-liberal economic globalization with its inherent unequal power relations;
3. The scientific uncertainties related to the long term economic, nutritional, health, ecological risks of gene transfer technologies in view of the irreversibility in the release and use of GE products;
4. The elevating of natural scientists and civil servants to be experts and adjudicators in regard to issues of GMOs even as they pertain to human life, the environment and the spirituality related to life;
5. The insufficient representation of relevant sciences (including ethics) to advise government, and the apparent non-independence of advisors to government and government institutions in the development and implementation of GMO policy;
6. The lack of public awareness and debate on GMOs, including our own lack of participation in GMO policy developments;
7. The overriding profit motive and supremacy of the market over issues such as human and environmental safety and health, and food supply;
8. The erosion of the sovereignty of national states, democracy and transparency in policy processes of international agreements and conventions related to food standards and agriculture which make domestic issues subject to trade concerns;
9. The commodification of life and monopolisation of knowledge through the patenting of genes and living organisms as well as indigenous science, products and practices.
We appreciate the role played by people and organisations outside the church who have committed themselves and their organizations to fight for socio-economic justice by resisting the unbridled introduction and use of GMOs and products.
We affirm:
1. Our conviction that there is sufficient food for all our people, but the problem remains inequitable access to and maldistribution of food.
2. Our commitment to the option for the poor, marginalized and disempowered. And as far as GMOs are concerned we are further driven by our vision of the dignity of the human person; the common good; solidarity; subsidiarity; integrity of creation; socio-economic and environmental justice.
3. That food and life is a gift from God and we are co-workers and custodians with God to sustain creation and life and the abundance thereof.
4. The power and sustainability of indigenous knowledge, practices and resources.
We commit ourselves to broaden and deepen:
1. our understanding of GMOs and the mechanisms dealing with these matters on local, national, regional and international levels;
2. our theological reflection and action in addressing the introduction, use and impact of GMOs and this biotechnology on food security;
3. our networks of solidarity and cooperation in South Africa, in the region, the continent and beyond;
4. our awareness of the organic link between food, HIV and AIDS, poverty and GMOs.
We call on the SACC and its members to:
1. Take the issue of the right to food seriously and co-own the issue of GMOs as an issue of justice in line with our longstanding commitment to solidarity with the poor and marginalised.
2. Redouble its efforts and programmes aimed at the eradication of poverty.
3. Learn from and be in solidarity with the struggles of the poor related to food sovereignty and the impact of GMOs as promoted by the dominant and fundamentally unjust economic ideology, systems and mechanisms of neo-liberal economic globalisation. We cannot but denounce and resist with the poor this ungodly ideology, since it affects the core of our common faith and vision for the world.
4.Undertake and facilitate the generation of prophetic/contextual theologies and resource material for education, liturgies, bible studies, as well as theological reflection and research at academic institutions which will empower the church to pursue its stand on GMOs.
5. Establish a pool of resources in terms of persons and institutions inside and outside the church to assist the SACC in a variety of engagements /interventions such as: dialogues with scientists; private sector companies; government; civil society; public awareness and education; and, policy interventions in national, regional and international forums.
6. Call on government, while it is still allowing GM technology to operate and have an impact on our environment to:
-- affirm that GM is a high risk technology;
-- impose a moratorium on any further permits granted for GMOs in South Africa;
-- take all measures necessary to make South Africa compliant with the Cartegena protocol.
7. Develop regional and continental solidarity and cooperation related to the churches interventions on GMOs.
8 .Develop localised campaigns and advocacy initiatives.
9. Agree on a clear strategic planning process and eventual reporting on progress made towards achieving its commitments.
10. Make this document public, and bring it to the attention of the member churches and other stakeholders including small-holder farmers,
government, scientists, private sector, and civil society organisations.

28 May, 2004


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