The African Centre for Biosafety briefed the Committee on the recommendations made in the petition submitted to the Committee on Agent Orange Maize and reasons for the petition which included GMO ban around the world, health implication of 2,4-D,GMO safety and labeling.
Recommendations made to the Committee included the overturn of GMO Executive Council decision on the approval of commodity import of Dow’s 2,4-D resistant maize; the ban of further imports of this variety and the review of current mechanisms for risk assessment and approval of GM permits, including issues of public participation in decision-making. Dow’s crops were 2,4-D resistant crops engineered to deal with glyphosate herbicide resistant weeds. The approval for 2,4-D crops to be grown in the USA had not yet been approved whereas South African regulators had approved the imports of2,4-D maize and soya.
This recommendations stemmed from the concerns that 2,4-D was known from its use as a compound in Agent orange in the Vietnam war which was known to cause detrimental effects on human health at that time from contaminations with dioxin which occurred as a highly toxic by-product. Dioxin was classified as a human carcinogen and was also capable of causing reproductive problems and immune system damage among others. In addition, 2,4-D was currently banned in some parts of the world like Norway, Sweden and Denmark; restricted in Canada and aerial application banned in some KwaZulu-Natal.
The safety of GMO crops was a concern as some Countries grew GM crops for animal feeds only and South Africa was unique in allowing modification of staple food. South Africans had been eating GMOs for 15years with no reported effects which should be investigated as no studies had been carried out. It was noted that without labeling reporting of illness was impossible as consumers had no idea that they had been eating GMOs. Various animal tests had shown worrying health impacts including effects on gastro-intestinal tract, disturbance of liver, pancreas and kidney function amongst others. It was suggested that Government should start carrying out Independent test on GM safety.
The biosafety regulation had a lot of shortcomings on pesticide management plan which dated from 1947, protection of health vulnerable population and public participation on GMO safety. There was difficulty in assessing risk assessment information on pesticide regulation from DAFF which made risk assessment procedures inadequate. Hence, the need for the review of current mechanisms for risk assessment and approval of GM permits. There should be public participation in decision-making as South Africans should be made aware of what they consumed.
The Committee raised concerns about the safety of GM crops on health and the likely impacts on the second generation. It was recommended that further investigations be done on GMO safety. The Committee added that GM technology was an on-going innovation and the populace had to make a risk-benefit decision in the use of GM technology.
The Agricultural Biotech Industry and other stake holders briefed the Committee on the need for the sustainability of GM products. The Challenges in Africa and the benefits of GM products to combat socio-economic constraints were highlighted.
The challenges included increased population which meant increased demand for food, increased damage to ecological foundations, increased need for food security, declined food production and low adoption of GM technology and Biosafety laws. Maize production was hampered by biotic and abiotic factors. The biotic factors included pest infestation and weed invasion.
The use of biotechnology to combats these constraints in order to improve yield, demands, income, pest control and safety was imperative. Maize stalk borer had been a serious pest in South Africa hence the need for a genetically modified maize, that was engineered to be resistant to stalk borers. Biotechnology protected crops had shown to have better yields than the non-GM maize.
The regulatory framework of South Africa could be trusted in making decisions that were safe for the populace.
This was supported by the success story of a small-holder farmer who suffered from stalk borer infestation for years before she was introduced to GM crops which had excellent turn over on GM maize. She had experienced more yields with less stress and with much higher quality maize. It confirmed the benefits smallholder farmers were reaping from GM crops worldwide.
The Committee expressed concern on the health safety of GM crops and its impacts on the second generation. In addition, the need for tenure security of land by farmers was to be reviewed in order to enable them access their lands as collaterals. Clarification on the ban of 2,4-D herbicides in some part of the Country was raised. The risk-benefit of GM products was considered as the benefits outweighed the risks of not using them.
The Committee raised concern on food labeling as it was important for consumers to be aware of what they ate. It was reiterated that labeling be backed up by proper monitoring by the regulators.
Opening Remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson said the meeting was aimed at discussing a petition submitted to Parliament on the 12 August 2012 by the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) on Agent Orange Maize .The main objective of the petition would be explained in the meeting .He said Parliament was an open platform for dialogue and lobbies.
The Chairperson read the apologies from the Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) who attended an Inter-departmental meeting, Mr L Gaehler (UDM) who was on leave, Ms N Twala (ANC) who was on a work related assignment in the Northern Cape and Ms M Phaliso (ANC) who was attending another meeting.
He acknowledged the presence of representatives from various Departments and the Biotechnology Industry team.
Briefing by African Centre for Biosafety (ACB)
Ms Haidee Swanby, Researcher, African Centre for Biosafety, apologized for the absence of ACB Director who had travelled to Ghana. The petition was against the decision that allowed the import of Genetically Modified maize that was resistant to 2,4-D.The petition was signed by 18 health professionals, and some experts as listed in the presentation. The petition requested the overturn of GMO Executive Council decision on approval of commodity import of Dow’s 2,4-D resistant maize; the ban of further imports of this variety; the review of current mechanisms for risk assessment and approval of GM permits, including issues of public participation in decision-making, massive difficulty in getting scientific data and being involved in the decision-making process. She said there were two GM crops in the market which were herbicide tolerant crop (resistant to glyphosate)and BT, pest resistant crops. The three main crops that were genetically modified in the world were Soya, maize and Cotton. These GM crops were mostly produced as animal feeds in other countries but in South Africa, GM maize was produced as staple food for human consumption. The statistics for the cultivation of GM crops across the world were highlighted.
In 2011, the US cultivated 69 million hectares of GM crops; Brazil cultivated 30.3 million hectares of GM crops and Argentina 23.7 million hectares. In Africa, South Africa cultivated 2.9 million hectares of GM crops while Burkina Faso grew GM cotton, Egypt grew GM maize but they had problems with bio-safety law. A few African countries cultivated GM crops for animal feeds. However, South Africa remains the only Country that cultivated for food.
Ms Swandy reiterated that GM crops were grown in other Countries as animal feed but South Africa was unique in this regard. The industrial food chain supplied about 30% of our food in South Africa whiles the peasant farmers without support, supplied about 50%.
Ms Swandy said the herbicide resistant crops were resistant to glyphosate and the more they were sprayed on the farms, the more the weeds became resistant. Farmers were having challenges with the control of weeds hence the need for genetically engineered crops that were resistant to 2,4-D chemical as herbicides.2,4-D crops had not been given approval anywhere in the world and South Africa regulators had given approval for the import of the GM maize and Soya which had not been approved in the United States hence a big problem in our risk assessment procedure.
Ms Swandy said 2,4-D was known for its use as a compound in Agent orange in the Vietnam war which had detrimental effects on human health at that time which were caused by contamination with dioxin which could occur as a highly toxic by-product. Dioxin was classified as carcinogenic and was capable of causing reproductive problems and immune system damage. Dioxin was still found in some 2,4-D mixtures. Academic studies showed the toxic effects on DNA, birth deformation and endocrine disrupting effects.2,4-D was completely banned in Norway, Sweden and Denmark; restricted use in Canada and aerial applications banned in KwaZulu-Natal, total ban in district of Camper down, Pietermaritzburg and Richmond. It had been withdrawn for agricultural use in the Western Cape.
Ms Swandy mentioned the various health concerns like effects on gastro-intestinal tract, disturbance of liver, pancreas and kidney function, disturbance of male testes function, altered body weight, allergic reactions and immune responses ad impact on second generations.
Ms Swandy reiterated that no study on health impact of GM maize had been conducted in South Africa. Government should carry out tests to see that GM crops were safe. She recommended more scientific investigation into the health impacts of GM crops. She added that scientific data were difficult to get for risk assessment procedures.
Ms Swandy concluded that if GM foods were labeled, South Africans could not make a choice as all South African maize was saturated with GM. She recommended that there should be separate streams of non-GM maize by peasant farmers in order to allow South African decide.
Mr Garell Jones, Researcher: African Centre for Biosafety said the vast majority of GM crops grown worldwide were tolerant to herbicides or pesticides. In the United States, between 1996 (when HT crops were introduced) and 2011, Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops were responsible for an overall increase of pesticide use of 239 million kgs. Between 1996 and 2011 the amount of glyphosate used in Argentina increased 11 fold, to 237 million litres. In Brazil the volume of pesticides sold increased by 360% between 2000 and 2009. In Bolivia, from 2004 – 2008 the volume of glyphosate and 2,4-D used increased by factors of 3.5 and 3.3 respectively. For Atrazine and Paraquat the figures were 4.5 and 2.3 respectively. GM soybean was approved in Bolivia in 2004.In South Africa, annual yield of GM crops had increased, it was estimated that 1milllion hectare of maize and soya beans would be grown at the end of this year. ACB was assured last year by the Department of Health that maize and soya would be tested for glyphosate residue. In 2012,glyphosate tolerate GM maize variety was approved in South Africa which was likely to be phased out by the European Union in 2017 due to concerns over health.
Mr Jones commented on the Biosafety regulation in South Africa had a lot of shortcomings which included the pesticide management plan which dated from 1947, protection of health vulnerable population and public participation on GMO safety. He said there was difficulty in assessing information on pesticide regulation from DAFF.
Ms Swandy referred to the application for general release of GMO TC1507 and NK603 maize in January 2014 to provide a scientific summary on the field performance of the GM plant, including a scientific explanation of the efficiency of the introduced trait. The field trials were not made available (CBI deleted) which was unacceptable. The risk assessment procedure had no peer reviewed science, relied on data from the producers, were based on substantial equivalence, South African regulators gave commodity clearance before event had been cleared as safe in the USA ,SANBI only managed 1 study in 13 years and safety, monitoring and research lagged behind.
The Chairperson summarized the recommendations of the presentation which included the overturn of the decision to import GM maize and soya by the GM Executive Council, review of current mechanism for approval of GM permit, review of pesticide legislation since 1947 and the labeling of GM foods in South Africa. He welcomed comments from the various Departments present.
Mr S Abram (ANC) thanked the presenters and said in a democratic system, it was important that organizations would have concerns with issues and make them known. He said it was important to accept that the population increases and land outreach diminishes to a variety of factors like over-encroachment and the population had to be fed. Statistically, 90% of the maize or staple food is genetically modified. The monitoring and research capacity in South Africa was lagging hence the need to see that those Departments concerned did their jobs. The Departments should be able to assist with the required information for instance Agricultural Research Council (ARC) if it did not have the capacity to carry out production research of GMO material, then the state had to make the resources available as researchers should be able to carry out researches effectively. In addition, DAFF should have a dedicated team that would seriously look at how to empower small growers or small scale farmers and assist them to become entrepreneurs in order to provide for the needs of local communities. He said small companies would be able to make available products to the end users at a reasonable price which was a proactive approach to create entrepreneurs. Farmers could not live without pesticides in farming as weeds and stalk borers had to be controlled. He said farming was about profit making and social responsibility to provide food hence, necessary steps had to be taken to see that the anticipated crop was enough to sustain them and provide substantial employment as they had to pay taxes. He said a global view had to be taken on this issue and reiterated the need to beef up research capacity as there were excellent Scientists in South Africa and consumer safety had to be ensured.
Ms A Steyn (DA) thanked the presenters and expressed concern about regulations, monitoring and labeling. She asked for the unit that monitored labeling and added that labeling alone would not solve the problem of consumer safety without proper monitoring. She expressed concerned about research information and asked if researches were carried out. She asked about the Council that looked at GMO regulations; if the Council had research information and looked into applications. Clarifications were required on 2,4-D chemical banned in 1991 in Kwazulu-Natal; reasons for the ban; why it had not been lifted and why it was limited to certain areas. She asked how monitoring was done and why we could not import crops.
Dr Julian Japtha, Chief Director: Plant Production, DAFF, replied that the Council that ensured monitoring comprised of all the departments represented including Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) said South Africans were confused about GMOs as researchers came out with conflicting results on GMO safety. She said there were researchers like ARC, OBP and other research groups and wondered if the Departments concerned were not worried about the conflicting opinions on GMO safety. South Africa was the only Country in Africa that grew genetically modified crops for human consumption while in other Countries, GMO maize and soya were used for animal feeds. She said South Africans were not aware of what they ate hence, the importance of labeling .she referred to the GMO percentage labeled on variety of maize in the presentation and added that if monitored and put in place consumers would know what they ate. She said GMO maize had been banned in other Countries but it was our primary staple food in South Africa. She expressed concern about the growing generation of today which was not unrelated to GMO consumption. She said the absence of choice was a concern as only GMO maize was available for consumption in South Africa which she feared could have health implication in the future. She reiterated that there should not be contradictory research findings from the scientists. She recommended that public hearings about GMO be done to welcome public opinions.
The Chairperson asked if the 2,4-D chemical was being imported into South Africa.
Dr Japtha said the request for approval was for commodity clearance of food and feed. Clarification was required on the confusion in the presentation that there had been import which was not approved anywhere in the world. He said if it was not approved anywhere in the world there could not be importation which meant that it was not grown anywhere legally hence he could not confirm if there had been importation. However there had been approval in other Countries for use as food and animal feed. In terms of the regulatory system, it was important to have a robust regulatory system which involved Scientists of various disciplines which represented a mechanism of peer review of the information on the assessment data which the regulatory system considered in making decisions. He said there were a number of articles or literature that were cited in the presentation, some of which were linked to other studies which had been retracted because of the concerns around the scientific merits of those studies. The Act provided for the review of any decision when new information became available and with the last study about carcinogenicity of a specific GMO which was later found not to be of scientific merit.
Ms Mandisa Hela, Chief Director, Department of Health, said the Department had to run tests on glyphosate resistant crops and all the samples tested were within the maximum residual level of 2mg/kg stipulated in the regulation of 12 February 1994.In addition, the Department was advised by DTI that there was a draft regulation aimed to bring in enforcement of mandatory labeling of all food containing GMO ingredients. The regulation was still in draft which would take care of labeling concerns proper.
Ms Glaudina Lods, Director, Department of Science and Technology said regular processes were followed on GMO applications and the Department also got experts when guidance was needed on specific issues and processes to be followed. She said the department had confidence in the process being followed.
The Chairperson said the process would be ongoing as part of the legacy report and recommendation would be made to the incoming Committee to continue the debate on GMO safety.
Ms Swanty agreed that there had not been commodity import of 2,4-D resistant maize as it was not grown anywhere in the world. She expressed concern on how the regulatory system allowed importation of a variety of 2,4-D resistant maize when the USDA had not declared it safe. She said sometimes the information used for decisions by the regulatory system could be different from that of the United States because further safety study was being done in the US. She said there was a gap on the risk assessment procedures in South Africa as information was difficult to get. She lamented that ACB did not know the GMO Advisory Council and the GMO executive Council was made up of 10-11 departmental bodies which was advised by the advisory council. She said there was a lack of transparency in the risk assessment decision approval procedure.
Dr Japtha replied that the Advisory Council was a body of scientists that advised the executive council and their names were available. However, DAFF received a request which had gone through a process of legal consultation that the name of scientists on advisory council should not be divulged to maintain independence of those scientists as they were performing advisory function.
Ms Swanty said there was a study that was retracted, the advisory for the executive council agreed that the study had no merit and should not be taken into account which was for the variety of maize called MTech6203 which was consumed in South Africa. ACB applied for uncensored scientific data, which was given to the executive council in 2008, the council approved the variety based on uncensored data. However, ACB got two pages back from the Council and some information were absent about the length of study and other basic information. She said there was some double standard in studies.
Mr Jones said the European Union and French academies decided the need for long term feeding study which was ongoing. He said there was a big gap in risk assessment of 2,4-D study and the EU had decided to take it up. For instance the Norwegian risk assessment procedure of 2,4-D tolerant soybean variety had been taken into consideration by Norwegian biosafety assessment in Norway on the social economic variations in risk assessment process as they refused to approve importation of 2,4-D into Norway. He suggested that same should be considered in South Africa considering the ban and partial ban of 2,4-D in some parts of South Africa.
Ms Swanty replied that Labeling was important as consumer had a right to know what they ate. The majority of South Africans were eating GM maize without their knowledge and consent; however consumer education was more important as many consumers did not understand the debate around GMO hence the need for a mechanism that ensured choice as non-GM maize should be available in the market. She mentioned that the price differential between GM, non- GM and organic crops was wide. She said there was a big market for non-GMO and the more people were educated the more they wanted it as there was a massive opportunity for small scale farmers to fill the organic maize market.
The Chairperson thanked the presenters and commented that the Committee had the responsibility to open platforms for dialogue on GM safety.
Briefing by the Agricultural Biotech Industry
Mr Hermie Groenewald, Executive Manager, Biosafety South Africa, briefed the Committee on ensuring the sustainability of GM products. He said modern biotechnologies had huge potential and could be used to develop sustainable products to benefit all South Africans. South African researchers, technology developers, regulators and consumers should be able to develop, assess, manage and access these products effectively by improving accessibility, encouraging discovery, increasing capacity, initiating partnership and stimulating growth. He focused on policy issue and risk analysis framework for decision making in South Africa.
Briefing By Africa-Bio
Mr Bongani Maseko, Project Manager, Africa-Bio, briefed the Committee on supporting small -holder farmers to improve productivity and food security. He focused on the challenges faced in Africa on biotechnology and what biotechnology meant to farmers. Our challenges included increasing population and increased demand for food against reduced capital natural resources for food cultivation which affected our ecological foundations like water and biodiversity, urban growth that meant increase in food security, declined food production as a result of less hectares of land and low adoption of GM technology and biosafety laws. Maize production in South Africa was hampered by a number of abiotic and biotic factors such as maize stalk borer (Busseola fusca) a serious pest of maize which contributed to colon cancer. Through biotechnology, a crop could be modified to be resistant to pests. Over the years it had been shown that Bt-protected maize produced better yield than the conventional maize. There was a lot of debate on the input cost of GM versus Non GM maize as stated in the presentation. The benefits of the GM technology included increase in yields, better utilization of land, improved seed, increased income, improved pest control and safety-reduced handling of hazardous chemicals.
Mr Maseko concluded that the benefits of GM crops to farmers included improved yield and stabilization of crop production, capacity building of small scale famers, successful technology transfer and farmer empowerment, development of new emerging farmers intending to go commercial, efficient use of available natural resources, improved quality of maize production and creation of employment for participating community. He said GM crops played a huge role in agriculture and contributed towards food, feed and fiber security. He said there was a broad international consensus that GM crops posed no unreasonable risk to human or animal health or to the environment and they were regulated by a robust regulatory system. He recommended a study tour to farms for confirmation of GM success.
Briefing by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Mr Corey Pickelsmier, Senior Agricultural Attaché, US Embassy, briefed the Committee on biotechnology and the small holders. He said biotechnology had been scientifically reviewed to be safe and had been identified as a tool for the growing need of food security. It had been projected that by 2050, global population could reach up to 9 billion and there could be less water, less land, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. Plant biotechnology was built on centuries of science which included DNA identification. There was no credible scientific debate about GMO safety as several science academies had found no risk to human health and GMOs were approved through science based regulatory systems. Several African Countries like Egypt, Burkina Faso, Sudan and South Africa had approved GM crops. The benefits of GM crops to farmers included weed control by Herbicide tolerant crops, less damage from corn borers by Bt corn, hence biotechnology was a solution to reduce pest pressure and risk to biotoxin pressure in maize. More Countries were embracing biotechnology to combat socio-ecological constraints.
Ms Mmadithaba Ntseoane, an emergent farmer, gave an overview of her farming experience with GM maize. In 2007, she planted 100ha of conventional maize which were infested by stalk borer and had disappointing yield of 2-3t/ha which continued in subsequent cultivations until 2011 when she was introduced to GM maize resistant to stalk borer by Africa-Bio. She planted two hectares and had a yield of 7t/ha with less stress, 14 tons in total on dry land with much higher quality maize which would have been impossible with conventional maize. In 1998 when GM maize was introduced in South Africa, the average non-GM dry land yield was 2.73t/ha. In 2008, GM yield had increased to 5.09t/ha-a productivity increase of 81%-a positive impact on food security. Worldwide in 2012,a record 17.3 million farmers grew biotech crops in 28 Countries on all six continents which proved the benefits smallholder farers were reaping from GM crops worldwide.
The Chairperson said the more engagement on the discussion on GMO technology, the more subjectivity would be heard from a point of view of those who were for or against GMO technology .He said there was worldwide lobby for it to be continued while some were against the continuity of GMO. He added that we had to move forward as we could not keep debating endlessly on GMOs. A democratic Parliament allowed debate on matters as they hear, receive petitions and submissions from time to time. He said the Committee was here to see how best to take the matter on GMO forward.
Ms Steyn thanked the presenters and commented on the farming success of Ms Ntseoane, a small scale farmer. She welcomed it as a good story as it was the reality of GMO success .she added that the population of the world was increasing and agricultural land was getting scarce for farming .She attested to the effectiveness of GMO in combating stalk borers in farming. Clarification was required on the source of funds of Africa-Bio as an independent non-governmental organization. She asked about the Consumer Protection Act and its role in the use of GMO .She asked the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries the reason why pesticides were banned in KwaZulu-Natal in 2011, and not in other parts of the Country.
Mr Maseko replied that Africa-Bio was a member based organization serving biotechnology stakeholders across the biotechnology sector like the health sector and industry sector .Africa-Bio was supported from members of biotech industry and an independent board that approved its strategic objectives. It had strategic partners like provincial Governments such as Government of Gauteng, Limpopo, FAO and other like-minded organizations in the continent.
Dr Jaftha replied that 24-D chemical was restricted in some areas of the Country in relation to its production within that area and the application of 24-D would pose a risk to vegetable production within that area. He was not fully abreast with the legislation that allowed the restriction but information on how it was restricted in the Province and the form of 24-D chemical could be retrieved from the Registrar.
Ms Piluso-Mosoane thanked the presenters and added that the debate on the use of GMO would continue based on the conflicting findings of researchers. She suggested that researchers should come together in order for the people not to be confused on the choice of products to make in terms of health and benefits of GMO. She added that farmers who wanted profit would welcome the use of GMO as it would enhance their yield but wondered if they considered the health implication of GMO. She said some researchers claimed GMO was good while some were against. She wondered why researchers were giving conflict findings which could be confusing to consumers. The health implication of GMO should be verified in terms of possible allergies or negative impacts. If GMO was banned in some Countries why was it accepted in some?
Ms Ntseoane said she was initially skeptical about GMO but due to education and more information she resolved to it. She attested that no illness or negative impact had been recorded using GMO. She encouraged that community should be educated on the technology itself which would call for effective budget. She said farmers were in farming business and they expect to make profit but they have a social responsibility towards the nation which was making food available and affordable not just about economic benefit but social impact.
Mr Pickelsimer said 24-D was combined with other things like kerosene and diesel and was one of the three most widely used herbicides in the world. DAFF did a scientific review and allowance for importation, production and human safety.24-D was scientifically reviewed for human safety and presently unavailable on the shelf in the US .24-D was in the process of been commercialized and scientist should be trusted in making decisions on safety of consumers.
Mr Abram thanked the presenters and commented that we had to come to grips with reality as since time in memorial, the human race had been engaged with various forms of experimentations for instance, the yields of organic maize gradually decreased until the introduction of GMO to boost the size and ARC research on nectarine to create a white fleshed nectarine from the yellow nectarine so that people would have choices to make. He said the benefit of genetically modified technology included a longer shelf life of fruit in case of exportation. He said constant research development would be the order of the day no matter who said what, there would always be an argument no matter who was for or against. We must ask what was best for the Country, the sector, the population and the consumer. He added that research had brought about insulin injection to combat diabetes, the benefit outweighed the risk of not using it, those were issues that should be considered. He asked if the various research institutes present had regular interactions with DAFF and if the department worked with them as partners. He added that, South African wines were popular overseas based on developments in winery which were products of innovations. He asked if GMO crops could withstand climate change like extreme weather conditions and temperature impact on GMO crops. He said a study should be done to see if it was working for some farmers so that other farmers could be advised to use GMOs. He asked Ms Mmadithaba Ntseoane if she had a title deed on the land given by the state department and if she could use her land for security for required capital.
Ms Ntseoane replied that climate change especially in the Northwest, farmers experienced extreme drought. She said the Western Cape had a strategy of giving farmers incentives and wished it happened in other Provinces. She said had no title deed to claim land ownership and could be chased out at any time.
Dr Japtha replied that DAFF had an interface with the respective interest groups. Biosafety SA supported the regulatory framework in areas of new development and potential risk and it assisted in getting uniform science recommendations on an approach. Africa-Bio also was involved in a lot of engagements such as access to regulators from other African regions. USDA shared regulatory experiences. African Centre for Biotechnology gave clarifications on issues or experiences and participatory role with some members. He reiterated that there was interaction with the respective interest groups.
The Chairperson said the matter was ongoing and would have to be subjected to review by the incoming Committee. He said bold decisions would be made through consultation processes as the Committee had tried to work with inter-departments on food labeling and other issues.
Mr Van Dalen commented that there were usually debates on new innovations and their risks. He said there was need to quantify the risks of these innovations as technology evolved all the time and consumers were easily convinced that innovations were dangerous. He asked if risk could be quantified as carcinogenic risk and so on. He reiterated that researchers should get together to reach an agreement; come back with the best idea for South Africa and there must be good regulation in place.
Mr Pickelsimer replied that South Africa had a strong and robust regulatory framework which could be accepted and trusted with risks as every innovation had a risk which had been applied to scientific process. In a democratic system, there should be room for public debate as the public had a right to know what had been approved and scientists had to respond to public comments. Scientists had been entrusted to make the best decision for the public in terms of risk mitigation for the consumers. A democratic system allowed for public comments, public health protection and approval of new technology within a period of time. He added that communication was essential but there should be a defined mechanism on how the Government communicated to the public on GMO. He suggested that improved communication to the consumers on what these scientific minds were doing should be considered.
Mr Groeneowald said the use of GMO was stipulated in Section 27 food labeling legislation of Consumer Protection Act which was about the responsible utilization of the technology and the regulation by the Department of Health which specified environmental management Act that covered the issues around environmental safety.
Mr Groeneowald said that debate was a complicated issue as scientists could never come together to debate or reached an agreement on GMO as the commercialized innovations were safe and should be trusted. In science there could be different agenda and philosophies which could be ethical or financial; hence a single answer would be difficult to reach. Genetic modification in terms of medical application today was not controversial as food was much more sensitive than medicine for instance, insulin was made from GMO and the benefit of using insulin could not be overemphasized. When the risk benefit variation changed in the mind of the consumer the fear would disappear. Most of the benefits of the GM products in the market focused on on-farm advantage. We could focus on the indirect benefits to the consumers like health benefit, food security and prices. The Department of Science and Technology had focused on creating products like food that were nutritionally enhanced that would bring about change and with time people’s perception in terms of risk-benefit would disappear. Public hearing would not yield any great result. The Department of Science and Technology had a programme called “The public understanding of Science and Technology”, and the recent thing they did was to engage with the general public on what they knew about Biotechnology, findings revealed that 80% of south Africans had never heard about biotechnology not even GMO. He suggested that focus be made on regulatory system and tools for quantifying risk. He concluded that there was a system in place that could be trusted.
Ms Pilusa-Mosoane suggested that a recommendation be made to the new Committee for public hearing on GMO products.
Ms Nyalungu suggested that GMO issue should go to the public hearing so that Provinces could be informed of the outcomes from the NGOs and research institutes.
Mr Abram said he was disappointed to hear that our people were put on land without title deeds. He expressed the view that unless a farmer owned a land they would be at the mercy of the bureaucracy. He said security of ten years was the only sure way of sustainable agricultural practices and suggested that the Committee should consider this issue .In agriculture, land had always served as collateral and our people did not have the security. He said transfer of land could not be given to people who had not proven themselves but for those who had done that there must be security of tenure.
The Chairperson thanked the petition that came through as it invoked some discussions. Relevant Committee must come together on the need for a public hearing on GMOs. There must be a point where relevant Committee of parliament would come together to hear their views and public hearing views. The debate would be continued by the new Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.