Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Conference

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AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 April 2003
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMO) CONFERENCE

Chair: Mr Neo Masithela (ANC)

SUMMARY
Day 2 of the Conference was in the form of Commissions: Health; Environment; Trade and IPR; Science and Technology; Agriculture. Each commission worked on six questions arising from the preceding day's plenary session.

In the report back session: The Science and Technology Commission said that they would need to embrace different technologies in order to achieve food security in SA. Also SA needed balanced and coherent information on GMOs. The government needs to invest in new technology as well as respect indigenous technology by integrating this into their research.

The Health Commission identified a need for greater information and public participation as well as investing in technologies in SA. There was need for a partnership between government, NGOs and civil society in taking accurate information to the public. The role of government is to monitor research.

The Trade and IPR Commission views were that the public needs to have a right of choice as well as public understanding.

The Environment Commission agreed that technology should offer choices for consumers and farmers alike.

The Agricultural Commission believed that food security through the use of GMOs was only one of the tools which could be used to assist SA to achieve food security, and that it needs to be used in a responsible way.

The Chair concluded that there was a need for people to have access to information because civil society needs to be involved in the decision-making process. Labelling is seen as a right in the case of GMOs. He also noted that the Cartegena Protocol needed more work.

MINUTES
Plenary The Chairperson, Mr Masithela called on Dr S.R. Moephoeli (Registrar: GMO Act ) for clarity on the questions posed the day before with regards to the GMO Act.

Dr Moephuli appealed to the public to critically analyse the Act, in order to make amendments. He explained that risk assessment was an evaluation of all the information provided by the public. He noted that the evaluation of this information was done by technical experts. In addition, Dr Moephuli said that the GMO Act was passed by parliament according to procedure and that its regulations had gone through the necessary public consultation.

The Chair thanked Dr Moephuli and explained the day's agenda saying that they would be holding five commissions (working groups), namely Health, Environment, Trade and IPR, Science and Technology and Agriculture. He said that these commissions emanated from the previous day's discussions, and asked all those present to divide into five groups and join various commissions.

These commissions would then have to work on the six questions which emanated from the previous day's discussions, and come up with possible answers to those questions. The questions were:

Q 1: Can we meet South Africa's current food security needs without making use of G.M. biotechnology?Q 2: How do we enhance/ensure public participation in the decision-making process with regards to GMO?Q 3: How do we accommodate the element of the Cartegena Protocol on the Biosafety Chapter for the Biodiversity Bill in the GMO?Q 4: How do we deal with the potential impacts related to this technology?Q 5: Given the S.A. context, should we not be able to develop our own technology?Q 6: Given the globalisation of GMOs, can South Africa afford not to be on board with this technology?

Commission: Health
Prof. N. Starke (Rapporteur) said that with regards to Question 1, the Health Commission reached a consensus that South Africa could not meet the current food security needs without making use of G.M. biotechnology as:-consumers and farmers alike should be given the opportunity to make that choice;-the realisation of drought resistance;-allerginicity needs to be taked into account in that some people are more allergic than others to different foods.

With regards to Question 2, Prof. Starke informed the group that they had a vigorous debate as to whether companies themselves should participate in the decision-making process, and whether the media should be used. He said that they needed to address the issues which consumers are dealing with.

With regards to Question 3, Prof. Starke said that they needed more information before answering this question.

On Question 4, he said that there was debate surrounding the issue of labelling and proper control in that certain labellings are superfluous. He said that consumers did not understand the impacts where technology was applied. Labelling and information needed consistency.

With regards to Question 5, the group's consensus was that South Africa should develop this technology (not only in plants, but also in insecticides). He said that S.A could not be dependant upon imports, it needs to produce its own technology and report on the research done in this area.

Commission: Environment
Ms. Thompson and Ms. Webster were concerned about Richel being the rapporteur since they believed that she was not neutral and asked the chairperson that it should be minuted. Ms. Mbengashe responded to the suggestion that the department should do the honours, saying that the commission should not be looked at as department driven but rather people driven and further raised that that decision was taken long ago and people had no problem with it at that time. Mr. Arendse reiterated the same sentiments - that there is no reason to suspect each other because there was no one who was neutral given the interest of people on the issues discussed.

The Commission agreed that there is inadequate information available to government and there is a need to promote sustainable natural farming methods. There seems to be an effort to block other methods. The commission also raised that biotechnology is not the only solution but part of a broader solution. There was agreement that we cannot do away with this technology. But we also cannot take one at the expense of another. There was a concern that companies would take the GMO technology to small-scale farmers. The commission was told that the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism was concerned about environment, health and safety and that science and technology should be used to promote indigenous knowledge.

It was agreed that every technology should offer choices for consumers and farmers and it should be promoted. We must carry on providing for farmers, but they must be afforded an opportunity to choose for themselves. If we talk about development and food security, we need to look at sustainability. Market considerations are skewing the debate. Pesticides cannot be the solution.

On the issue of food security, it was raised that agricultural exports have been growing between 12 - 14 % of income. However, most of the exports are done by commercial farmers. Household food security is another untapped potential of community. Emerging farmers only have 10 % of market share of cattle. The perspective of the ARC was to employ all available technologies to achieve objectives. There is a need to move from subsistence to emerging or commercial farmers. We have a huge gap between export markets and emerging farmers.

Public Participation
It is important to practice public private partnerships. The problem is that decisions are made with less information and understanding. Understanding is critical. There is a need for information and workshops to look at issues of capacity building. The problem with the present situation is that it is favouring those who read and write to give input and suggestions. We need a common strategy to be real partners. It was mentioned that there were some meetings where misinformation was transferred. Information must be accurate to make informed decisions.

It was raised that ordinary people are unaware of the effects of the far-reaching technologies. There is a need to have transparency and access to information. Technology is so obscured and it is not clear where would we be in years to come.

It was mentioned that we need to create mechanisms for environmental assessment. There is a need for public hearings on environmental releases. We need to look at the OAU Model and its law on biosafety. This has to take place within the context of the constitution and environmental legislation. There is a problem of participation. Partnerships with other departments in educating schools kids and communities are important. We need to deal with non-governmental organisations provided that they deal with both pros and cons. The strength is the environment extension services. Extension services are given to provincial governments to go to farmers. We need an extension services and training officers and to give information to the extension officers. Farmers in rural areas do not get information on GMO's. There is a need for discussion at different levels. Parliamentarians are important for public participation. Therefore, there is a need for training of parliamentarians to understand the issues. The Kenyan model defines and develops an agenda. After that, a problem is identified and it then it is important to look at capacity challenges.

We need to include more people in the process. It is clear a lot of information is not getting through to the government. We need to have decision makers working closely with the people. Education should come from all angles.

When looking at the question of participation, it was agreed that there is a need to critically look at our history because the majority of our people have little education. We need people to participate in the field using their practical competencies.

The chairperson summarized that there is no single method to enhance public participation. All methods should be used at various levels. Information must be correct.

Question 3
The chairperson told the commission that the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism dealt with the Cartagena Protocol and they had agreed to accede to the protocol. The Biodiversity bill had gone to cabinet already, he said.

The reviewing of the GMO Act would have to create space for our international obligations. We need to ask about the scope of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in biodiversity and try to distinguish the leading role of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. When GMO's are released, they impact on biodiversity. Some discretionary powers are given to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to assess risks to the environment. In addition to legal requirements, the DEAT was looking at institutional arrangements. In terms of Cartagena Protocol, we need competent authority and the executive council is part of this . We need a focal point as well. Cartagena Protocol needs Bioclearing House.

It was raised that there is a need to support DEAT but there was a concern about communication between DEAT and Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs. Communication would need to be strengthened. The GMO Act must be in line with the protocol. There is enough capacity to deal with challenges.

Mr. G. Willemse suggested that they need to look at the situation of the Act. We need to look at the mandate of the Biosafety Chapter and the review thereof. It is important that there should be capacity within departments.

It was felt that the GMO Act should be kept within the Department of Agriculture. We must be careful about the veto of one department against the other. There is a need for a joint sitting within the GMO Executive, and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism should be there. There is the issue of the exclusion of biosafety. There is also an issue of impact assessment and environmental impact assessment sets clear guidelines on public participation. Biosafety is excluded from the Biodiversity Bill.

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is in the council. The Departments of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Tourism and South African Bureau of Standards all form the directorate of safety in agriculture. They agreed to work together to look at safety issues. The Cartagena Protocol would be taken to the GMO Act.

We need to look at the level of participation of DEAT, Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs. There is also a need for the government of South Africa to honour its international and national obligations. The provincial government level is important and monitoring is left to provinces to implement. Capacity is necessary.

It was suggested that the advisory committee would need to also look externally. We need to make use of various non-governmental organisations and the change in legislation. There is an impact the environment does not require. The commission noted that some of the activities carried out require Environment Impact Assessment.

Question 4
There is a need for annual reports which are open to everyone. The question of liability would need to be looked at. Presently, the liability rests with the consumers. This has an economic impact. We need to seriously look at economics of it. We also need to let companies know about what is lacking in the present legislation. It was raised that NEMA provides guidelines for the impact not only on environment but also on health. Research is required. There are EIA regulations, so you have a sequence of instruments and you can apply these instruments. We need better coordination and institutional arrangements as they are, as yet, not enough. The Biodiversity Bill would need to look at issues of risk assessment. The advisory committee would need developmental experts on socio economic analysis. We need to look carefully at South African conditions. There is limited testing from situations different from ours.

We also need to look at current structures and research which would need extra resources. The model of excellence should be supported. Take the Ghana example where grain is grown in dry land. Technology should be used. It should be regulated responsibly and there should be monitoring. Government should fund studies and we need to promote fair communication. We need more studies on impact assessment. We need international certification except government to certify those structures on research. There are suspicions about the private sector. We need baseline studies. Scientists are not given resources and there are insufficient funds from government.

As the commission was running out of time scheduled for the commissions, the chairperson recommended that questions 5 and 6 should be combined and the commission agreed.

Question 5 and 6
It was noted that we can solve our own problems but there was the question of how we are going to regulate. We need to look at Africa as a continent: safety assessment and health assessment. We have capacity scientifically and otherwise. We have instruments and the government must make sure that instruments are applied. Management of the technology is important. Within field trials, there has to be impact assessment on the ecosystem. We can use our technology and we can also look at Africa and the differences that exist. The SADC committee is dealing with issues of biotechnology. We need Bioresource Centres and the ability to conserve. Research institutions are important to develop research capacity.

We need to find out how we can better utilise globalisation for gains in human health. We also need to look at the affects. The economic costs of GMO's are evident. We need to spend money on something that we think might work. Figures are not the true reflection of the prevailing situation. We need to look globally and locally in Africa. There are many initiatives in Africa. For example, there is a Forum for Agricultural Research and there is also a Biosafety Council. The African Union and NEPAD has not endorsed anything on biotechnology. There is an example of Kenya and South Africa where they produce genetically modified potatoes. We need to develop our own technology. Research is still lagging behind. We need to benchmark with other international organisations. It was also raised that the AU model is non beneficial. Reference was made to the trade analysis that was conducted by lawyers in Australia.

The chairperson summarised saying that they would have public hearings and the committee will invite people to make presentations.

Commission: Trade and IPR
With regards to Question 1, Mr R Linsky (Rapporteur) said their commission decided that the consumer had a right of choice.

He said that on Question 2, their group consensus was that public participation should be broadened in that information needs to be unbiased. He said that the language in the Act needs to be simplified and also accommodate the illiterate.

With regards to Question 3, "How do we accommodate the element of the Cartegena Protocol on the Biosafety Chapter for the Biodiversity Bill in the GMO?", he said that this should be carried out in the context of a more inclusive approach in that public participation as well as industry participation needs to be included.

On Question 4, he said that there were impacts at various different levels, namely regional, national and international levels, hence trade barriers were created because of the introduction of GMOs. They would need to take into account the impact of GMOs on the environment, as well as carry out impact studies on markets. They saw a need to maximise markets, both locally and internationally. He said they saw a need for a balance between intellectual property rights.

Commission: Science and Technology
Ms C. Aldous (Rapporteur) said that with regards to Question 1, "Could we meet South Africa's current food security needs without making use of G.M. biotechnology", their group decided that S.A. probably could, however they cannot ignore the future implications of this. She said that it was essential to keep GMOs on the market in order to feed the growing population. Further, that food safety needs to be guaranteed by scientists.

On Question 2," How do we enhance/ensure public participation in the decision-making process with regards to GMO?" She said that people can only participate based on the information they have, hence it was imperative that they increase the understanding about GMOs usings schools, educational insitutions and the media.

With regards to Question 3, she said that their group decided that changing the GMO Act was not the issue, instead changing the regulations to the Act i.e. Biodiversity Bill. Further, she said that laboratories would need to be used to do risk assessments.

On Question 4, she said that they would need to monitor genes as traceability was the fundamental issue at hand. They would also need to look at the socio-economic impacts of biotechnology.

With regards to Question 5, the group agreed that S.A. should be able to develop its own technology, training etc.

With regards to Question 6, she said that there was not much debate. She said that they could not ignore any technology out there.

Commission: Agriculture
The commission on Agriculture was chaired by Mr D.M. Dladli. The scribe was Mr S.G. Cawe (Univ. of Transkei), and the Rapporteur was Dr P.E. Lukhele-Olurunju (ARC).

The Chair opened the floor to debate on question one, on whether South Africa could meet the current food security needs without making use of G.M. biotechnology.

Some individuals in the commission took the stance which said that yes, South Africa could meet the current food security needs. There was also an expression of fear of the new technology in that rural people needed information and education in order to sustain themselves. Some felt that biotechnology can be used to address national food security, not individual food security.

Dr M. Schoeman (ANC) suggested that biotechnology needs to be used in a responsible way. Biotechnology eliminates harmful chemicals which causes environmental pollution.

Others felt that biotechnology provided the solution to address malnutrition, poverty and starvation by 2020, as well as improving the yield in terms of production.

The commission ultimately decided that food security being achieved through the use of GMOs was only one of the tools which could be used to assist S.A. to achieve food security, and that it needs to be used in a responsilbe way.

On question 2 regarding how we enhance/ensure public participation in the decision-making process with regards to GMO, some individuals in the commission suggested that the information provided by government needed to be improved, also that information be made available to the public as to the consequences and risk assessments carried out on GMOs. They all agreed that public participation needs to be enhanced in South Africa.

With regards to labelling, they need to take into account that the cost of labelling may increase the cost of foodstuffs which may in turn impact on food security.

With regards to Question 3, the commission decided that they did not have sufficient information or time available to work on this question.

On Question 4, the group agreed that additional research needs to be conducted in this area.

With regards to Question 5, the group said that South Africa already has world-class researchers.

With regards to Question 6, the consensus was that South Africa cannot afford not to be on board as far as this technology is concerned.

Questions and Discussion
After hearing the reports from the various commissions, the Chair opened the floor to questions.

Ms Elfrieda Pshorn-Strauss urged government to look at additional capacity building.

Closing Remarks
The chairperson thanked all the presenters and organisers for preparing for the conference. He explained that the purpose of the conference was to allow different stakeholders to observe how they would deal with the situation.

He then briefly summarised the various commissions. In the Science and Technology commission he said that they would need to embrace different technologies in order to achieve food security in S.A. Also that S.A. needed balanced and coherent information as far as GMOs were concerned. The government needs to invest in new technology as well as respect indigenous technology by integrating this into their research.

In the health commission, Mr Masithela noted that they saw a need for greater information and public participation. There was also the consensus for government to invest in technologies in S.A. They saw a need for a partnership netween government, NGOs and civil society in taking accurate information to the public. The commission saw the role of government as monitoring research in S.A as far as biotechnology was concerned.

The Chair then moved on to Trade and IPR where he said that the public needs to have a right of choice as well as public understanding. In the Environment commission, it was agreed that technology should offer choices for consumers and farmers alike. In the Agricultural commission, it was decided that food security being achieved through the use of GMOs was only one of the tools which could be used to assist S.A. to achieve food security, and that it needed to be used in a responsible way.

The Chairperson summarised saying that they had dealt with the Cartegena Protocol, Food Safety etc. The Chair said that there was a need for people to get access to information because civil-society needs to be involved in the decision making process. Further that labelling is seen as a right with GMOs. He also noted that the Cartegena Protocol required more work. The Chair said that South Africa was the first country to approach the way in which biosafety should be dealt with. He thanked all for their contributions and noted that there were very important issues raised. He then adjourned the meeting.


 

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