Genetically Modified Organisms Amd Bill: briefing, Provincial Oversight & Land Summit Committee Reports

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
11 October 2005
BRIEFING ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMO) AMENDMENT BILL, Draft Provincial Oversight Report AND Land Summit Report

Chairperson:

Ms D Hlengethwa (ANC)

Documents handed out:

GMO Amendment Bill;
Draft Report of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs on Provincial oversight visit to the Northern Cape, Free State and Eastern Cape;
Draft Report of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs on Land and Agrarian Reform Summit, Gauteng [available at
Committee Reports]

SUMMARY
Ms D Hlengethwa (ANC) was elected as the Committee’s new Chairperson.

The Department of Agriculture briefed the Committee on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Amendment Bill. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety required amendments to the GMO Act of 1997. Changes required were provisions for unintentional transboundary movement and emergency measures and information sharing, a Biosafety Clearing House (BCH), a provision for liability and redress, an allowance for cultural and socio-economic issues, and public awareness and participation.

The Committee discussed the provision for liability of end users in the Act, Biosafety Clearing Houses, the effect of GMOs on indigenous knowledge and natural production, the labelling of GMO products, and the process of acquiring a permit for GMOs.

The Committee decided that they would only adopt the report on their oversight visit to the Northern Cape, Free State and Eastern Cape after technical changes had been made.

The Committee decided to note the Land Summit report and to debate it after they had engaged the Department of Land Affairs on an implementation plan.

MINUTES
Election of a new Chairperson for the Committee
Ms D Hlengethwa (ANC) was unanimously elected as the Committee’s new Chairperson.

Briefing by the Department of Agriculture on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Amendment Bill
Dr Shadrack Moephuli (Assistant Director-General: Agri-production) said that their policies and strategies had to be mindful of the fact that South Africa was a developmental state. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety required amendments to the GMO Act (No. 15 of 1997), which was implemented in 1999. Its objective was the responsible management of GMOs. Activities approved in accordance with the Act were general release approvals, commodity clearance, field trial approvals and contained use.

Dr Julian Jaftha (Senior Manager: Genetic Resources Management) said changes to the GMO Act required by the Protocol included provisions for unintentional transboundary movement and emergency measures and information sharing and a Biosafety Clearing House (BCH). The protocol also required a provision for liability and redress, but this issue was still being debated. Further changes included an allowance for cultural and socio-economic issues and public awareness and participation.

The Department had conducted public consultation before drafting the Bill. This included various entities, such as Parliamentary Portfolio Committees, groups concerned about GMOs and seeds and groups from the grain and animal feed industry. Issues that arose from these consultations included the need for a national policy and the redrafting of the GMO Act.

The GMO Amendment Bill would give effect to international agreements, like the Cartagena Protocol, amend definitions and add new definitions, amend the composition and remuneration of members of the committee and council, amplify the powers and duties of the council, the committee and registrar, and clarify the procedure relating to the application for and issuing of permits.

Discussion
Mr T Rhampele (ANC) asked what a Biosafety Clearing House did. Dr Moephuli answered that a Biosafety Clearing House was an international database that every country that was part of the Cartagena Protocol had to compile. It would give detailed scientific information for countries to make informed decisions about the use of GMOs.

Mr Rhampele said the Bill would provide for a review of the powers of the Council on the cultural and socio-economic impact of GMOs. He asked what those powers were.

Mr Rhampele required an indication of the impact the introduction of GMOs had had on the biodiversity of the country and said there was a debate on whether enough was being done to produce natural products. He asked if they were doing enough to produce naturally or if South Africa was being used as a testing ground for GMOs. Dr Moephuli said the National Biodiversity Institute had to investigate the matter. Before people brought GMOs into the country, they had to a risk analysis. The majority of communal farmers did not use technologies and could therefore be seen as organic farmers, albeit not in the same sense of the word as was the case in Europe. Land care was one of the Department’s programmes, which encouraged the sustainable, natural use of resources. Dr Moephuli did not think South Africa was a testing ground. South African companies had to do testing to see how their products would impact on the environment.

Mr Rhampele asked, as a follow up question, how much output came from communal farmers. Dr Moephuli said communal farmers constituted approximately 42% of the people in rural areas. Very few commercial farmers produced anything that was organic.

Mr Rhampele enquired about the labelling of GMO products. Dr Moephuli said the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act handled the labelling of products. GMO products did not have to be labelled as such. Dr Jaftha said regulations stated when labelling was mandatory. Currently GMOs were not treated under those conditions. International standards had been set for GMOs. The Department kept in mind what was happening in the international arena.

Dr A van Niekerk (DA), Mr B Radebe (ANC) and Ms B Ntuli (ANC) were concerned about the liability of end users of GMO technology. Dr Moephuli said that the provision for liability would not be changed in the Bill. It would be used as it was in the current Act, except that it would include provision for human and animal health. The issue remained a major point of discussion in the Cartagena Protocol.

Ms Ndivhuo Rabuli (Department of Agriculture, Legal Services) said the liability issue was still under negotiation, which was why they did not want to make changes to the Act. They would be able to accept what the Protocol would provide for. Many people were involved in GMOs and the court would look at who were responsible in liability cases. The user should take appropriate measures. The Department would be governed by what happened internationally.

Mr Radebe asked what South Africa’s position was on the liability issue. Dr Moephuli said liability went beyond the GMO Act. The Department’s position was to stick with what was currently written in the Act, unless otherwise instructed by their political principals.

Dr Van Niekerk enquired about permits for GMOs. Dr Moephuli said the Act primarily dealt with the release of GMOs into the environment. The Act did not interfere with the work in laboratories, as it was utilised by experts. When a GMO was developed, the researchers then had to apply for a permit subject to the GMO Act to do field trials. They had to indicate how it would be managed as well as provide economic reasons. When the registrar had received the application, they then received an assessment from the advisory committee and various government departments. After they had submitted reports from the field trials, they could apply for a permit.

Mr Radebe said the Bill had been expected in 2004, but was not ready then. He asked when they would have the final product. Dr Moephuli said that when dealing with public consultation, schedules were not always under control, with changes to the plans causing delays.

Ms Ntuli was concerned about the attention paid to rural villages, the cultural and socio-economic issue, the impact on biodiversity, the loss of access to resources and the loss of indigenous knowledge. She asked how the issue of the loss of indigenous crops would be addressed. Dr Moephuli said a traceability system had to be put in place. The National Gene Bank helped to keep track of genetic resources. There could be implications for indigenous knowledge systems, which should be catered for in the Protocol. This was why the Department of Arts and Culture should also be included with the Department of Science and Technology.

Ms Ntuli asked why only two church groups were mentioned among the groups who took part in the public consultations. She also asked what had happened to the Amakhosi (traditional leaders). Dr Moephuli said the churches mentioned in the presentation represented a summary; they did not target only certain groups. Every piece of draft legislation had to be published in the Government Gazette, where it could be accessed by the public. They might need to go to the Amakhosi.

Dr Moephuli said the Protocol recognised that member states should also use social and cultural ways to make decisions on GMOs. South Africa’s legislation had to include it. The amendments were needed to improve administration and transparency.

A Member said the Department mentioned quite a number of Acts pertaining to GMOs. He asked when these Acts would be applied.

Dr Van Niekerk asked if there was a definition of natural products. He asked if natural products were tested to the same extent as GMOs. Mr Rhampele said Dr Van Niekerk could not ask this question as the scientific community had not even been able to establish the safety of GMOs. Dr Van Niekerk said the point he was trying to make was that natural products were not tested as rigorously as GMOs, even though some natural products could also contain health risks. Dr Moephuli said the GMO Act and Bill were tools to manage the technology, and was not intended to tell people if something was safe. It provided procedures to assess the risks.

Ms E Ngaleka said it was clear that they would come back with another amendment.

Ms Ngaleka asked to what extent they were educating the public about GMOs. Dr Moephuli said there was a Public Understanding of Biotechnology (PUB) unit to educate consumers. They were, however, limited by funds. Dr Jaftha said regulators could not also be promoters of GMOs. Therefore they were in partnership with the PUB and the Department of Science and Technology.

A Member asked to what extent the USA and Europe consumed GMOs. He asked if the producers of GMOs also consumed their products. Dr Moephuli said it was a difficult to answer. In the USA they did not see anything wrong with GMOs and consumed it, particularly maize. The controversy around GMOs had been between the USA and the European Union, not within the USA. Mr Rhampele said some countries in the EU were opposed to GMOs. The Member asked the Department to do some research as he understood that some countries producing GMOs were not keen to consume it, but were keen to export it. The Member was concerned that people did not always want to consume things they produced. Dr Moephuli said GMOs did not only refer to food, but also to cotton and vaccines.

Dr Van Niekerk said they had received many inputs. He asked if they had received further comments after the Bill had been published. The Chairperson asked if the Committee could get some of the submissions.

Mr Rhampele enquired about the impact of hybrid seeds on communal farmers. Dr Moephuli said the availability of GMO seed did not stop the availability of other seed. There were many technical requirements.

Ms Ntuli was concerned that they did not seem to consider the rural poor.

Draft Provincial Oversight Report
The Committee undertook an oversight visit to the Northern Cape, Free State and Eastern Cape from 9 to 19 August 2005. The purpose of the visit was to oversee projects funded by the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, particularly on Landcare and restitution programmes. The multi-party delegation consisted of ten Members from the ANC, IFP, UDM and UCDP. The visit highlighted some of the shortcomings of provincial departments. The fundamental challenges were a communication gap between the provincial departments and the beneficiaries of the programmes, and a lack of coordination and integration by departmental units in dealing with projects and related policy issues. The Committee was of the opinion that provincial departments had to establish strong mechanisms for monitoring, evaluation and regular interaction with beneficiaries.

After discussing concerns about the technical quality of the report, the Committee decided that it would be adopted after it had been cleaned up and the wording improved.

The Chairperson said the report would be sent back to the provinces, who would be asked to make presentations to the Committee. Ms Ntuli said the Committee should indicate, in writing, to the provinces what they would like to see before the next visit.

Land Summit Report
The Committee participated in the Land Summit held in Nasrec, Gauteng from 27 to 31 July 2005. The summit was held to draw from international and local experiences on land reform policy and implementation, and to provide a platform for open, frank and honest dialogue on land and agrarian reform in South Africa. Four Members of the Committee attended the summit. Five themes were discussed at the summit. They were: Land redistribution: Urban and Rural Development, Land Restitution: Balancing rights of dispossessed and economic development, Creation of a thriving economy in rural areas in the context of Land and Agrarian reform, Security of Tenure on commercial farms and in communal areas, and Land Use Management and Spatial Planning.

The Committee secretary, Jerry Boltina, said the presentations by social movements were not captured in the original report. This had subsequently been included in the report.

Mr Radebe said the Land Summit Report had budgetary implications. It would be proper to get an implementation plan from the Department of Land Affairs before its adoption. He suggested that the Committee note the report, and only debate it once the implementation plan was available. The Chairperson said the report would have to be adopted at Committee level at some stage. Ms Ntuli said they should leave the matter and look at the rules governing committee work before proceeding with the report. The Committee left the matter at that.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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