Genetically Modified Organisms Amd: briefing by Departments of Agriculture, Health, Environmental Affairs, Trade &Industry & Sci

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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

8 November 2005


Ms D Nhlengethwa (ANC)

Documents Handed Out:

Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Bill [B34-2005]
Department of Agriculture: GMO Amendment Bill presentation
Genetically Modified Organisms Act 15 of 1997
National Department of Health perspective on GMO
Department of Trade and Industry: Memorandum
Department of Science and Technology: GMO Amendment Bill presentation
Committee Annual Report [available shortly at
Committee Reports]

15 Apr 2003
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Conference
14 Apr 2003
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Conference

The Committee received briefings from the Departments of Agriculture, Health, Environmental Affairs, Trade and Industry and Science and Technology on their perspectives on the Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment (GMO) Bill [B 34 – 2005]. These departments, who all sit on the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms as established by the Genetically Modified Organisms Act of 1997, expressed their unanimous support for the Amendment Bill. They also explained what role each of them played in this field

The Committee voiced their concern over the implications of the implementation of the Bill’s impact on the population, specifically with regards to health. The Department of Science and Technology assured the Committee that GMOs had been in existence for many years, and there was no evidence to prove that they had a negative impact on the health of the population.
The Committee also asked questions about adverse effects on local markets by transnational biotech companies such as Montsanto, the labelling of GMO food, shortage of scientists in this field and the response of the biotech industry to this Bill.

Department of Agriculture (DoA) briefing on Bill

Dr Shadrack Moephuli, Assistant Director-General: Agricultural Production briefed the Committee on the process prior to the GMO Amendment Bill coming to Parliament in terms of public consultation. He reminded members of the GMO Conference held in Parliament in 2003 with all the relevant departments. The Department had canvassed input from the public in October 2004 and had received responses from 89 interested and affected parties. Cabinet approval had been given to this Amendment Bill on 11 May 2005, and certification by the State Law Advisers on 7 October 2005. The GMO Amendment Bill would give effect to the international agreement, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), such as the provisions of Article 17 on Unintentional Transboundary Movement and Emergency Measures and Article 27 on Liability and Redress. The Act had to be in accordance with international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress for damage resulting from transboundary movement of living modified organisms (LMOs).

The GMO Amendment Bill would amend certain definitions and add new definitions. It would amend the composition and remuneration of members of the Advisory Committee and Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms, and amplify the powers and duties of the Council, the Committee and the functions of the Registrar as well as clarify the procedure relating to the application and issuing of permits (see Appendix for Memorandum on the Objects of the Bill).

Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) briefing
Ms Wadzi Mandivenyi, Director for Biosafety/Genetically Modified Organisms, stated her department's support for the Amendment Bill. The Biosafety Directorate was formed earlier this year to coordinate biosafety issues. DEAT had a two-fold role to play in this field. Firstly they were represented on the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms as set up by the GMO Act. The Biodiversity Act provided them with the second mandate of monitoring which was performed by DEAT's public entity, the South African National Biological Institute (SANBI). In terms of Section 78 of the Biodiversity Act, DEAT would be allowed to call for an Environment Impact Assessment.

Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefing
Mr Ben Durham, DST Director for Biotechnology, stated that their department had conducted a biotech survey in late 2003 and had found that there were 47 core biotechnological companies in South Africa and approximately 59 non-core biotech companies. It also looked at researchers involved in this field and the number of research and development projects. It planned to do another survey this year to map the progress and provide business intelligence on the biotech sector in South Africa. In terms of the GMO Act, DST sat on the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms and participated in conducting GMO risk assessment as well as assessments in terms of socio-economic, environmental, human health and cultural impact.

Department of Health (DoH)
Mr Sello Ramasala, Director of Legal Services, stated that the Department of Health supported the Bill. The Bill reinforced the requirement that one of the persons sitting on the Advisory Committee had to have knowledge of the potential impact of GMOs on human and animal health.
As with other technology that impacted on heath and the environment, a regulatory multi-sectoral regime was critical that was also in line with international guidelines. The role of the DoH as provided in the Act was to ensure that the department worked in collaboration with stakeholders and that the health of the population was not compromised by GMO activities. The DoH also sat on the Executive Council and ensured that the Minister of Agriculture was advised on the heath aspects of GMOs. It considered the heath matters in applications for GMO activities and provided the authorisation for permits (stating that the GMO not prejudicial to health).

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) briefing
Mr Imamaleng Mothebe (Senior Manager for Processing Agencies) stated that the DTI supported the GMO Amendment Bill as it covered all aspects of procedural notification, handling, transport, packaging, identification and information sharing requirement as stipulated in the Cartagena Protocol. Further the DTI supported the approval of the GMO Amendment Bill as it aligned South Africa’s biosafety framework with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Protocol did not stand alone as an international instrument and the Bill had to take into account the provisions of other international instruments, in particular, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGR) and Article 27.3b of the TRIPS Agreement. The challenge was to achieve a perfect balance between optimal competitiveness in the agricultural and science and technology sectors, the preservation of SA’s national resources as well as socio-economic factors.

Mr S. Abram (ANC) inquired whether the departments had ever been aware of any instances where GMOs had had a negative impact on society.

Dr S Moephuli (DoA) responded that there had not yet been a study on the impact of GMOs on the population, however an assessment had to be conducted prior to the issue of a permit for such products to enter the South African market, hence the department was convinced that the health impact was unlikely to be negative.

Mr E Salamuddi (ANC) inquired whether companies such as Monsanto [American-based chemical and crop transnational] impacted South Africa’s local market negatively.

Mr B Durham (DTI) responded that the departments encouraged the creation of local market manufacturers so that companies like Monsanto did not have the opportunity to manipulate it. Further Monsanto had offered as a gesture of goodwill for local scientists to utilise their technology and adapt it to local South African crops.

Ms B Ntuli (ANC) requested the departments to respond on the availability of resources necessary for the implementation of the Act as well as further resources necessary for the public awareness of rural areas.

Mr Durham responded that as far as public awareness was concerned, the departments had created travelling exhibits for local rural areas, it had created outreach programmes and further produced cartoons in various ethnic rural languages to raise public awareness about GMOs.

Ms Ntuli asked what plans were in place to solve the problem of insufficient financing which was needed to train more scientists and experts in this field.

Dr Moephuli (DoA) responded that the issue of scarcity of resources proved always a challenge, especially the challenge of the lack of scientists in the field. DoA made provisions for bursaries from high school to Phd level, specifically aimed at areas where there are skills shortages. Mr Durham added that in response to the shortage of skilled scientists, his department had spent in excess of R150 million per annum for the development of skills in the field of biotechnology. Dr Moephuli commented that it was a challenge for his department to convince the National Treasury to remunerate scientific experts adequately for their services. Without adequate incentives, it was difficult to attract skilled experts into the area. He noted that Treasury had a fixed formula which it used to calculate the remuneration of non public officials.

Ms Ntuli asked the DST to elaborate on the heath impact and risk assessment of the implementation of GMOs. Mr Durham (DST) responded that GMOs had been in existence for many years, and there was no evidence to prove that it had a negative impact on the health of the population.

Dr A van Niekerk (DA) asked whether private biotech companies in South Africa were in favour of the implementation of GMO and LMOs. Dr Moephuli responded that those companies that had interests in various sections of the Bill supported those sections.

Mr S Holomisa (ANC) enquired what the process was for labelling GM products in order to raise consumer awareness of such products on the market. Ms Koekemoer (DTI) replied that as far as labelling was concerned, there was a need to inform consumers in order to inform them as well as to gain acknowledgement for technological development on indigenous products.

The Chairperson commented that the Committee wanted to see the implementation of labelling of GM products. He also noted that public hearings on the GMO Amendment Bill would be held in the first session of 2006.

Adoption of Committee Annual Report
The Committee adopted this Report.

The meeting was adjourned.


1.1 The Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Bill seeks to amend the
Genetically Modified Organisms Act, 1997 (Act No. 15 of 1997) (‘‘the Act’’). The Act
provides for measures to promote the responsible development, production, use and
application of genetically modified organisms and ensures that all activities involving
the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is carried out in such a way so as to
limit possible harmful consequences to the environment, human and animal health.
1.2 The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which South Africa is a party, is an
international agreement that aims to ensure that an adequate level of safety is maintained
in respect of the environment and human and animal health during transboundary
movements, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) or Genetically
Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the South African context. Amendments to the Act are
required to ensure that South Africa’s biosafety framework aligns with the Protocol.
1.3 The Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Bill, 2005 (hereinafter referred
to as the ‘‘GMO Amendment Bill’’) seeks to—
(i) extend the scope of activity in the current Act to include exportation of GMOs,
thereby conforming with the Protocol with regard to—
- the advance informed agreement procedure (Article 7);
- notification (Article 8);
- procedure for living modified organisms intended for direct use as food
or feed, or for food processing (Article 11);
- handling, transport, packaging and identification (Article 18);
- competent national authority and national focal points (Article 19);
- information sharing and the Biosafety Clearing-House (Article 20);
(ii) include an official from the Department of Arts and Culture as a member the
Executive Council. The Department was originally included in the Act as the
Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. Representation of the
Department of Arts and Culture on the Council is important in light of Article
26 of the Protocol, which requires the parties to take into account
socio-economic considerations arising from the impact of GMOs on
biological diversity that may have particular value for the indigenous and
local communities. Furthermore, the Department of Water Affairs and
Forestry is included in view of new developments in the field of genetic
modification (e.g. GM fish, trees);
(iii) ensure that an environmental expert and an expert on the impact of GMOs on
human and animal health are included as members of the Advisory
(iv) ensure that the requirements for implementing the Protocol align with the
functions of the registrar, the Committee and the Council.
1.4 Many of the requirements of the Protocol would be incorporated into the
regulations, guidelines or even internal procedural documents of the registrar,
Committee or Council.
1.5 In drafting the proposed amendments, the Department of Agriculture took into
account past experiences with implementing the Act as well as recent legislation,
- the Environment Conservation Act, 1989 (Act No. 73 of 1989);
- the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act No. 107 of 1998);
- the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10
of 2004); and
- the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act No. 54 of 1972).
Having considered the abovementioned legislation the Department of Agriculture is of
the opinion that the GMO Act makes adequate provision to ensure compliance

The GMO Amendment Bill includes the major concerns raised at the Parliamentary
Conference held in Cape Town during April 2003 and the comments received on
publication of the draft Bill in the Government Gazette.

The Parliamentary Conference provided a platform to debate biosafety assessment of
GMOs for all stakeholders and interested parties, including parliamentarians. The
Conference. having regard to regional and global needs and with the GMOAct as guide
explored the potential risks related to technology and the safest manner in which
technology could be used for the benefit of South Africa and the continent at large. The
members of the following Portfolio Committees were present at the Conference,
- Agriculture and Land Affairs;
- Environmental Affairs and Tourism;
- Science and Technology; and
- Health.
Approximately 100 delegates from 75 different organisations also attended the
Conference. The participants were members from environmental groups opposed to
genetic engineering; small-scale farmers; commercial farmers; seed companies;
manufacturers; retailers; community organisations; academics and a few diplomatic
missions representatives. The chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture
and Land Affairs chaired the Conference.
Various stakeholders and interested parties submitted comments in response to
publication of the draft Bill in 2004, including farmer organisations, non-governmental
institutions, environmental organisations, the seed and grain industry, the Medicines
Control Council, the animal feed industry, research institutes, processing companies
such as Tiger Food Brands, the organic industry, government departments, scientists,
legal institutions, church organisations, interested parties from civil society, and the
bodies appointed in terms of the GMO Act. All the comments that were received were
taken into consideration and incorporated where appropriate.

The financial implications relate to the administrative functions required to
implement the GMO Amendment Bill if it is enacted and they are indicated in the Table
below. This has been communicated to National Treasury. The full and effective
implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety will require an increased
budgetary commitment, with particular reference to the establishment of a national
Biosafety Clearing-House, capacity building in risk assessment and, in general, to
facilitate the implementation of the Protocol.

[PMG note: See end of Bill for costing table]

4.1 The State Law Advisers and the Department of Agriculture are of the opinion that
this Bill must be dealt with in accordance with the procedure established by section 75
of the Constitution, since it contains no provision to which the procedure set out in
section 74 or 76 of the Constitution applies.
4.2 The State Law Advisers are of the opinion that it is not necessary to refer this Bill
to the National House of Traditional Leaders in terms of section 18(1)(a) of the
Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, 2003 (Act No. 41 of 2003),
since it does not contain provisions pertaining to customary law or customs of traditional



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