News24 (Capetown, South Africa) October 19, 2005 GMO BILL FLAWED -- NGO 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 statement. "(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.