News24 (Capetown, South Africa)
October 19, 2005


Cape Town -- Draft legislation aimed at ensuring the safe and
responsible development, production, use and application of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in South Africa is flawed, says
an NGO that monitors such biotechnology.

The Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Bill, tabled at
Parliament earlier this week, would do little to tighten the existing
industry-friendly GMO legislative regime, Biowatch SA warned in a

"(It) does not go far enough to ensure that South Africans'
constitutional right to a safe environment is upheld, and that
livelihoods are not threatened," it said.

The bill seeks to change existing laws to ensure South Africa complies
with provisions of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which the
country is a signatory.

Among other things, the measure extends the scope of the 1997
Genetically Modified Organisms Act to include the export of GMOs.

No mechanism for liability

Biowatch said among the flaws in the bill was that the precautionary
approach -- as a basis for decision making -- was absent when it came
to the granting of GMO permits.

"The precautionary approach says in the absence of definitive data
proving the benefits and safety of something, we should assume the
potential problems are real, and address them accordingly."

The bill also provided no mechanism for liability and redress when GMO
manufacturers contravened legislation.

Further, there was no clear and obligatory procedure and mechanism for
meaningful public participation and access to information on decisions
to grant GM permits.

There was also too much reliance on self-regulation by the GMO
industry, Biowatch SA said.

Debate over GMOs -- defined as any organism which has been modified in
a way that wouldn't happen naturally through mating or natural
recombination, or both -- has grown progressively more heated over the
past decade.

According to government, genetic modification of crops holds only
benefits for South Africa, making plants such as maize resistant to
pests, insects and disease, and thereby increasing yields.

It maintains foodstuffs containing GMOs are safe to eat, and there is
no evidence to show they have an adverse effect on people's health.