Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Amendment Bill: hearings

Committee: Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Date of Meeting: 17 Jan 2006

Summary

No summary available for this committee meeting.


Minutes

 

AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
17 January 2006
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMO) AMENDMENT BILL: HEARINGS

Chairperson:

Ms D Hlengethwa (ANC)

Documents handed out:

 

Department's presentation on the GMO Amendment Bill
Submission by African Centre for Biosafety
Submission by Agricultural Biotechnologies, FoodNCropBio
Submission Vuvuzela Farmers Association
Submission by Biowatch South Africa
Submission by Molecular and Cell Biology Department: University of Cape Town
Submission by African Products
Submission by AfricaBio
Submission by the Public Understanding of Biotechnology Programme
Submission by the Agricultural Research Council.
Submission by the Bizana Community and Legal Advice Centre
Submission by Elandskraal Balimi Irrigation Scheme
Submission by Phadima Community Development Association
Submission by Kwangwanase Farmers' Union
Genetically Modified Organisms Act [No 15 of 1997]
Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Bill [B34-2005]

SUMMARY
The Committee conducted hearings on the Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Bill. Presenters felt that public participation under the Bill was not adequate. Government should educate people on genetically modified organisms and their impact on health, environment and the economy. Many were of the view that the GMO Amendment Bill raised issues of serious concern and required robust debate and discussion. It failed to address the issue of who would be liable for damages caused by genetically modified organisms. There were concerns that genetically modified organism would contaminate or even destroy organic seeds. GMOs posed health risks and damage to the environment. There was a need for a clear policy that would guide the drafting of legislation on biosafety.

On the other hand, the Committee was also told that biotechnology had many advantages to farmers. It could lead to increased production and yield. The demand for maize was set to rise in the next twenty years and it was important to investigate if the world would be able to feed its nations without biotechnology.

MINUTES
The Chairperson welcomed all people to the hearings and hoped that they had enjoyed the festive season.

Overview by the Department of Agriculture on the Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Bill
Dr J Jaftha (Senior Manager: Genetic Resources) represented the Department of Agriculture's overview (see document attahced). He noted that the GMO Act 15 of 1997 was implemented in 1999. Some of its objectives included measures to ensure responsible activities, limit adverse effects on human beings, animals and the environment and measures to evaluate and reduce potential risks. He defined GMOs as organisms that did not occur naturally through mating or natural combination or both.

He said that a number of institutions had been consulted on the contents of the Bill. The Bill was intended to give effect to international agreements such as the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety. It would also clarify the procedure relating to the application and issuing of permits. It was clear that the current Act did not allow for enough time to go through the process of appointing an appeal board. Clause 13 of the Bill would address the matter. The clause would also increase the scope of decisions that the board would hand down. It would be allowed to confirm, set aside, substitute and amend decisions. It would also be allowed to make any such order it might consider fit in order to minimise a significant negative impact on the environment or human and animal health. In making a decision, the board would be allowed to consider new scientific or technical evidence or any other information that would, in its opinion, be directly applicable to the appeal.

Submission by African Centre for Biosafety
Ms M Mayet thanked the government for the democratic and transparent process of dealing with the Bill. She also welcomed the historic opportunity for participating in a process through which the current GMO Act would be amended even though the amendments might have been triggered by the ratification of the biosafety protocol. The Bill would give the regulator an opportunity to rectify some of the flaws contained in the current Act.

She said that the amendments to the GMO Act would not change the status quo. The GMO Act would remain nothing more than a permitting system. It would still not provide for clear obligation on the side of the industry. Issues of liability would still remain unclear. It was important to look at what was at stake in the whole discussion about GMOs. The whole discussion was about power, control and profit on the one hand and biosafety on the other hand. The concept of biosafety had to do with fundamental human rights like the right to a safe and healthy environment and the right to (consumer) choice. The question was whether the regulator would allow the current form of regulation to continue without public participation. Would multi-national corporations still be allowed to use our country as an experimental dumping ground?

The Bill should be drafted in a very clear language that would require the industry to produce evidence of the safety of their products in relation to human health and biodiversity. The current Act contained no clear risk assessment parameters and this was unacceptable to the public. An industry independent environmental impact assessment should be conducted before a licence for the growing of GMOs was granted. It was dangerous to make decisions solely based on data produced by the industry because the data was largely product development data.

The Bill was unclear on when liability would pass from industry to the farmer. She objected to the definition of "user" because it included consumers, small-holder/ resource poor farmers and the general public. The definition was too wide and should be changed. The Bill would introduce strict liability if people like farmers were to be held liable for GMOs even though they were not aware of potential damage. There were still a lot of uncertainties around the technology used in the production of GMOs. The Bill should provide for strict liability on the part of the industry because the industry was saying that the technology was safe. There was a need for a robust biosafety law designed to protect the public. Society should be protected against the threat posed by GMOs.

Discussion
Mr B Radebe (ANC) said that it seemed that the presenter was against GMO technology. What was the real problem with the technology? Was it that the control was largely in the hands of the industry? The world had developed to the current stage due to technology and technology was always changing.

Ms Mayet replied that the risks associated with the technology were multi-faceted. There were risks to human health and the environment, socio-economic and ethical risks. The organisation was quite happy to give proposals on how the issue could be dealt with.

Mr S Abram (ANC) asked what form of public participation would be preferable to the presenter. Ms Mayet had said that public participation under the current Act was not adequate.

Ms Mayet replied that there was a need for public hearings especially for commodity import permits. Public participation was essential as we moved to more and more GMOs. She said that her organisation had recently objected to a triple stacked gene product. South Africa had never consumed a product.

Ms B Ntuli (ANC) asked the presenter to give some ideas how to conduct risk assessment and to elaborate on the statement that farmers should not bear the risk posed by GMOs.

Ms Mayet replied that she was not against science based assessment. The problem was that the parameters for risk assessment were too narrow. There should be mandatory environmental impact assessment in addition to the science-based assessment.

Submission by Agricultural Biotechnologies (FoodNcropBio)
Dr W van der Walt (Senior Partner) made the presentation. (See document attached). He agreed with Ms Mayet that the public participation mechanism under the current Act was not enough. The Bill that led to the current Act had been widely circulated and this was not the case with the present Bill. The Bill dealt with safety and benefits to the South African community. The Bill was dealing with knowns and unknowns. Known risks should be regulated. The regulator and the community should ensure that there was enough information about the unknowns. The GMO Act was a balance between the balance to society, the development and adoption of technology and ensuring biosafety. The Bill was the most comprehensive and overarching legislation on the statute books in the country and probably in the world. It dealt with the technology from academic laboratories all the way to the consumer. The Act brought together six government Departments under one decision making body and this was unique. The relevant Departments would bring to the table all legislation that had a bearing to modern day technology.

He said that contrary to some other views, the GMO Act allowed the registrar to withdraw or amend permits that had already been granted. It made use of an extensive permit system. Regulations dealt with issues of liability. It was important to understand that legislation was a framework. Regulations were the meat that fitted into the framework. There were also the actual practical procedures and systems that supplemented the regulations. The procedures and systems were constantly upgraded. There were nine different kinds of permit systems that dealt with GMOs. The requirements under the systems had been continuously increased. In essence the system had not been stagnant but dynamic and evolving. The systems used a body of scientific advisers under the Advisory Committee. There were also people who were tasked with reviewing recommendations made by scientists. Scientists and reviewers had access to international data possessed by other regulators. There were provisions for appeals and public comments. Decisions and risk assessment had to be based on science. One could not make a law that was based on public perceptions and emotions. The law should be based on scientific assessment.

The legislation was proactive. It required that genetically modified organisms, their applications and products derived from those applications should be safe. Some legislation was reactive. They would wait for a product to be introduced into the market and then reactively regulate the products after something wrong had happened. He referred to a case of contaminated peanuts in Transkei. Another good thing about the legislation was that decision-making powers were centered in one body: the GMO Technical Council.

Dr van der Walt said that it was important not to confuse the GMO Act with the Biosafety Protocol. The GMO Act was not a plant's Act. There was a tendency to focus more attention to the genetically modified plants when dealing with the Act. Nothing was being said about GM vaccines and enzymes that produced GM bacteria. It was important to focus on all products of the technology. A lot of noise had been made about stacked genes. The reality was that plant breeders had been stacking genes for hundreds of years. They had been removing genes from plants and animals that they considered not to be valuable and stacking genes that were beneficial.

He said that the amendments contained in the Bill were an attempt to comply with the provisions of the Cartegena Biosafety protocol as well as to update and expand the of the GMO Act. The objective of biosafety was to minimise potential risks and to manage such risks, and not to avoid risks. There was no such thing as zero-risk in anything.

Under "duties of the Council", the Bill provided that the Council "must" require that certain things be done. Opponents of GMOs had argued that environmental impact assessment (EIA) and socio-economic impact should be made mandatory. The precautionary approach dictated a case by case decision. The question was how would one do such environmental assessment for an HIV vaccine or new GM yeast. The EIA insertions would place an undue focus on GM crops while ignoring the legal scope of the GMO Act.

Discussion
Mr P Holomisa (ANC) said that the presenter had indicated that it was not possible to assess the impact on the environment because there was nothing against which the assessment could be compared. He asked if the statement did not support the contention that South Africa was being used as an experimental ground.

Ms Ntuli noted that the presenter had said that there was no such thing as a zero-risk and that risks should be managed. She asked if people should wait for something to happen and then manage the risks. Shouldn't there be some assessment of the risks and precautionary measures to deal with them?

Dr van der Walt replied that nine major food groups that we eat everyday contained allegerx. Even good food could contain some risks if not properly stored. Everything had a risk.

Mr Radebe said that GM seeds were patented and belonged to big companies. He wondered if this would not increase the risk of starvation in Africa. It had been claimed that GM seeds posed the risk of destroying indigenous plants. He asked if anything had been done to prevent this.

Dr van der Walt agreed that there could be some contamination in some instances. Cotton did not have any related species with which such contamination could take place. The risk was minimal in some instances.

Submission by Molecular and Cell Biology Department: University of Cape Town
Dr J Webster made the presentation. (See document attached). She said that one should bear in mind that farmers, scientists and researchers were also members of the public. It should be noted that some of the activists did not represent as many people as they claimed.

Prof. Webster said that 50 - 75% of the labour force in Africa was in agriculture. 70% of population depended on agriculture as sole source of income. Africa’s crop production was the lowest in the world (1.7 tons/ha Africa; 4.0 tons/ha global). 25% of grain used in Africa was imported. Most African countries depend on agriculture for foreign currency earnings.

She said that the maize streak virus was endemic in Africa and causing huge economic losses. There would be a huge demand for maize in the next 20 years. It was important to consider if the country would be able cope with the demand. Biotechnology research and development had been going on for over 30 years. Research groups were engaged in 911 research projects of which 30% were core biotech projects focused on commercial products. 6% offered biotechnology services. South Africa's agricultural biotechnology was primarily aimed at controlling diseases and pests, improving the storage properties of food, improving weed control and improving yield and quality of foods.

She said that regulations and legislation should provide safety checks and balances and should be easy to use by all stakeholders including scientists and farmers. The cost of biosafety assessment should be minimised to ensure maximum benefits from this technology. There was a need to aim for more coordination between strategic policy making in the following areas: sustainable agriculture, agriculture and trade, agricultural research and the regulation of biotechnology. Agricultural GM technology was here to stay. It was currently underutilized, despite its specific appeal to a wide range of farming systems. Biotechnology and biosafety legislation and regulations should be comprehensive but not too costly or restrict innovation.

Mrs S Khoza (National African Farmers Union) said that biotechnology could help poor farmers to develop faster, safer and more nutritious agricultural products, control pests and diseases that could wipe out the entire crops. Negative changes to regulations and legislation could make the technology expensive and would not promote access to the technology.

She said that it was very important to remember that farmers were the primary consumers of all their products. They were the first to eat the products before they were made available to the general public in the market place. As a mother and grandmother, she would not deliberately feed poison to her children and the nation as a whole. The new technology had improved her financial position tremendously and she had become a public figure because of it. She invited the Committee to go to her farm and see all the achievements she had made as a result of the technology.

Discussion
Mr Holomisa wondered what the fact that insects that ate GMOs would die, meant in relation to the nutritional value of the GMOs. He asked if it would not be better to encourage the plantation of organic seeds.

Prof. Webster replied that insects would normally move from the genetically modified plant to another eating it for a short period of time. Those that continued to eat the plant would die.

Mr Radebe noted that there was a drought resistant maize. Only a small percentage of the South African soil could be used for agricultural purposes. He asked want could be done to ensure that a large part of the sole was used for agricultural purposes.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) said that it had always been said that the government should be careful not to over-regulate the industry. He asked if the presenter was satisfied that her submission had highlighted specific issues that should not be over regulated.

Ms Webster said that all concerns around over regulation were outlined in the presentation.

A member of the Committee said that it seemed like there was not enough awareness about GMOs. In most areas a lot of people still had a lot of unanswered questions about GMOs.

Submission by Vuvuzela Farmers Association
Mr B Manukuza made the presentation. He said that farming was part of his family and culture. He normally saved cabbages, onions and carrots seeds every year to plant in the next season. In 2003 he started attending meetings wherein the farmers were educated in how to plant Bt cotton. He thereafter decided to plant Bt cotton on a small plot but the results were not good. He had decided to stop planting Bt cotton because the sample given to farmers had failed despite the fact that the soil in which it had been planted had been tested and found suitable for the cotton. The drought in the Makhathini Flats area was another reason why he decided not to continue planting Bt cotton. Farmers were trained in planting Bt cotton but the training was conducted far from their homes and was not to their level of understanding. During the training it was indicated that cotton farming had high input costs. He appealed for government to financially assist farmers.

He said that the GMO Bill should protect small farmers against big companies. Big companies were only interested in selling their products and farmers took all the risks associated with the products. The Bill should ensure that the country’s food security was not jeopardised. It should protect indigenous seeds and vegetation. The government should educate farmers on the impacts of GMOs. The manufacturers of GMOs should give assurance that their products would not cause damage to the soil environment or present health risks. They should also give assurance that there would be markets for the GMO products.

Discussion
Ms Abrams asked if the Department of Agriculture did not have officers to assist resource poor farmers in the Makhathini area.

Mr Manukuza replied that the Department had extension officers and they were working very hard to educate people about GMOs. There were also agents from big seeds companies who would normally visit the area to promote their products.

Ms E Ngaleka (ANC) noted that the presenter had asked for the protection of small farmers against big companies. She asked if the Bill did not offer enough protection. The presenter had called for the protection of indigenous seeds and vegetation. She asked what kind of protection did the presenter envisage. She also asked why the presenter felt that small farmers had to be protected.

Mr Manukuza replied that the seeds companies had too much power. The problem was that their seeds could not be stored for future use. Traditional seeds could be stored for some years and still be used.

Mr A Anslie (ANC) proposed that the Committee should find some time and visit the Makhathini Flats area and get a first hand experience of the situation of the ground. He asked if the farmers in the Makhathini Flats area had noticed any deterioration in soil conditions after they had planted genetically modified seeds.

Mr Manukuza could not give a precise answer. He said that the practice was to skip a year between planting seasons. This was done to ensure that the soil would revitalise itself and be fertile in the next planting season.

Submission by African Products
Mr B Olivier (Maize Procurement Manager) made the presentation. African Products was a company that produced value added products from maize to meet the demands and requirements of its highly valued customers. Its position on GMO’s was totally neutral and it wanted to ensure than any legislation or regulations governing GMO’s would allow for its continued service to its customers. It was not against permitting GMOs in South Africa. It was also not against the GMO Act 15 of 1997. He welcomed the Amendment Bill. He believed that that GMOs could bring about huge advantages in the form of increased efficiencies in crop production, increased production of staple food world wide, food security and alleviation of hunger and increased competitiveness and stability in remote areas.

He said that African Products had to deal with the commercial issues brought about by GMOs. Unfortunately, most of the commercial issues were dealt with in the regulations and regulations were not looked at during the process of amending the Act. He was concerned that South Africa was being used as a transit country for US maize to Zimbabwe. There was nobody who could really prove that the maize ended up in Zimbabwe. Some of the maize ended up in the South African market. He said that there were maize products that had been exported from South Africa having been labelled that they were not genetically modified when in fact they had been modified. He was worried about the credibility of South Africa.

Discussion
Mr Abram asked if the presenter was saying that there was no sufficient controlling or monitoring mechanism and that it was possible that certain commodities could be passed through as non-GMOs. The presenter had said that South Africa was being used as a transit country and that the products could still find their way into the South African markets. He wondered if the presenter was saying that the Bill should provide further monitoring mechanism.

Mr Olivier replied that the certain imported products contained certain things that were not allowed in South Africa. The question was how one would test for the prohibited substances if they did not have access to laboratories.

Dr A van Niekerk (DA) asked what changes would the presenter like to see in the Bill.

Mr Olivier replied that there was nothing much that had to be changed. Most of the commercial issues should be addressed through regulations. The current regulations did not adequately addressed commercial issues. It had been said that farmers who planted GM maize should ensure that 5% of their maize was GM free. This was a commercial issue and was not dealt with in the regulations. Some farmers were not doing this because they were not aware of this requirement.

Mr Anslie noted that the presenter had sad that certain commercial issues were not dealt with in the Bill. He asked what kind of issues were those. He also asked why customers of African products ad always insisted on buying non-GMOs.

Mr Olivier replied that customers preferred GM free products for different reasons. It was not all customers who wanted GM free products. He guessed that 70% of them preferred GM free products. They were scarred that they would lose market share if they were to use GMOs. Some of the customers were involved in the export business and could not get access to markets if their products were not GM free.

Mr Holomisa asked if the presenter had any dealings with the provision of maize to countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Such countries had continuously refused GMOs despite the fact that their citizens were facing starvation. He asked what could be their reasons for refusing GMOs.

Mr Olivier could not say why the countries had continuously refuse GMOs. He said that he did not supply any maize to Zimbabwe.

Submission by AfricaBio
Mr W de Greef made the presentation. (See document attached). He said that there was a need to update the GMO Act in order to adapt it to the Cartegena Protocol. The GMO Amendment Bill offered an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the GMO Act, update the structures and procedures under the Act and to adapt to technology evolution. Not much needed to be changed. GMO biosafety regulation was put in place to ensure that activities with GMOs were conducted safely. It was neither a tool for promoting nor blocking applications of GM technology.

Discussion
A member asked what were the international arguments for and against GMOs. He asked the presenter to comment on the issue of liability.

Mr Greef said that the arguments raised for or against GMOs in the international stage were similar to those raised in South Africa. He said that very few countries had a system of dealing with the issue of liability in so far as it related to GMOS.

Mr Holomisa asked if consumers in developed countries preferred GMOs or organic products.

Mr Greef could not answer the question. The problem was that there was almost no labelled products in the market.

Submission by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC)
Dr P Lukhele-Olurunju (Group Executive: Crops Division) and Mr F Guma (Group Executive: Horticulture) represented the ARC. Mr Guma made the presentation. (See document attached). He said that the ARC understood the need for intervention by way of the GMO Amendment Bill. It was important not to intervene in a way that would make it difficult for scientists to do their work.

Discussion
Mr Holomisa hoped that the ARC was not saying that it should not be held accountable for its own action merely because it was a State institution.

Mr Guma replied that the manufacturers of technology were liable for the risks that flowed from the technology up to a certain point. The concern was in relation to the way in which the amendments had been framed. There was liability that went beyond the boundaries of South Africa.

Mr Abram asked which of the current regulations inhibited the ARC from carrying out its duties. He asked if it would be correct to say that the ARC generally did not have problem with the Bill but only have some concerns with the regulations.

Mr Guma replied that the ARC would be unable to carry out its functions should the regulations become too strict.

Mr Anslie asked the presenter to expand on the threats posed by and the consequences of GM technology. He wondered if the risk and consequences associated with the technology would not strengthen the case for strong regulation of the technology. He also asked if the ARC conduct research with and on behalf of the private sector.

Submission by the Public Understanding of Biotechnology (PUB) Programme
Ms H Malherbe made the presentation. (See document attached). PUB was established in order to increase broad public awareness and clear, balanced understanding of the scientific principles and the potential of biotechnology and related issues; and create meaningful opportunities for public dialogue and debate around biotechnology and its applications within our society to enable informed decision making. There were high levels of ignorance or lack of knowledge amongst South Africans. There was a need to educate and raise awareness on GMOs. The polarization of the GM issues globally and contradictory claims were adding to the confusion.

Discussion
Mr Holomisa asked what were the risks posed by GMOs. The presenter had made the point that the public should be informed about the benefits of GMOs.

Mr Abram asked if the Programme supported the Bill.

Ms Malherbe replied that she was not in a position to answer the question.

Submission by Biowatch South Africa

Mr A Soeker (Policy Coordinator) made the presentation. He said that Biowatch was very concerned with the deficiencies in the current regulatory system for GMOs and the failure to address the deficiencies in the Bill. One of the primary causes was the absence of underlying policies to direct the drafting of the GMO Act and the Bill. The result was a flawed piece of legislation that was likely to give rise to numerous difficulties with the implementation of the legislation. The whole issue of genetically modified organisms was a matter of great public concern in South Africa and internationally. It raised issues of serious concerns in relation to human health, environmental protection, food security and the socio-economic implications of allowing foreign companies to acquire a high degree of control over essential food production processes through the ownership of seeds. It was also a matter of grave concern in other countries particularly in Africa. It affected South Africa’s relations with the international community. Despite this there had never been a full informed and appropriate public debate on how best to regulate GMOs in the country. No acceptable policy had been formulated and adopted in this regard. Consequently the GMO Act was passed without adequate public participation and without an underlying policy to guide its provisions. The result was a substantially flawed regulatory system that was skewed in favour of facilitating the issue of permits without any attendant liability for impacts associated with permitted activities. There was a need for the policy to give some sort of guidance to the drafters of legislation.

He said that there was a lack of public participation and no proper access to information. He said that his organization had once tried to get some information on how GMOs were permitted and how decisions were made in respect of GMOs. It could not get the information and was forced to go to court in order to get the information. The court held that Biowatch had the right to access the information. The question why was it necessary for it to first go to court give the fact that it had the right to access the information. The information should have been in the public domain. The provisions in relation to public participation and access to information did not satisfy the constitutional requirement for procedurally fair administrative action.

Mr Soeker was also concerned with the emphasis on the scientific approach to risk assessment and decision making at the expense of an approach that incorporated the environmental, social and economic factors. He said that he was not saying that science should be the basis of decision-making. The problem was that other considerations were not being taken into consideration. The scientific approach was a new approach that was introduced in the last draft and Biowatch ha a problem with it. Another concern was in respect of insufficient guidance or environmental impact assessment in relation to GM activities. The Bill did not provide for the manner in which EIA and risk assessment should be done. It had been said that the regulations would provide for more details but it was important for the Bill to give some guidance.

The Bill entrenched a self-regulatory approach in terms of which applicants would submit risk assessments without independent reviews. They were given the responsibility of monitoring their own compliance with permit conditions given the substantial economic interests at stake. This regulatory approach was highly inappropriate. Biowatch had appealed against the decision to authorize Bt 11 maize. The appeal failed but the Appeal Board added a condition that a monitoring programme be put in place so that the impact on the environment could be investigated.

Mr Soeker said that a lot had been said about the issue of liability. He was of the opinion South Africa should go to the Cartegena Protocol negotiations with a well-established position on the issues of liability. He was opposed to the view that the end user should be liable for the risks posed by GMOs. The Act and the Bill lacked tools to impose rehabilitation obligations on defaulting permit holders and this was in contradiction with the polluter pays principle. Nothing had been said about the monitoring regime and this undermined consumer choice. GMOs should be labelled.

He said that the Bill fell foul of certain provisions of the Constitution and the Promotion of Access to Information Act. He proposed that the Committee should instruct the Department to initiate a new consultative process with civic organizations within a specific timeframe. Such a process should ideally include the consideration of a new policy on biosafety. He also proposed that in the interim all new applications for GMOs should be put on hold.

Discussion
A member asked if there was any justification for stopping the whole process of dealing with the Bill and starting it afresh. She also asked how the polluter pay principle should be applied in the context of the Bill.

Mr Soeker replied that he was not saying that the whole process should be stopped but that the Committee should build from it. There were major issues that had to be addressed in the Bill and one could not just move forward. Such issues included labeling and liability. There was a need for robust debate and discussion on the issues. People’s positions were very polarized and nobody was prepared to shift from their positions.

Mr Anslie said that the Committee had been told that organic seeds were not enough to feed the nation. He asked the presenter to comment on this. He also asked the presenter to expand on the concerns raised around Bt 11 maize. Some submissions had maintained that public participation on the Bill was not enough. People had been given an opportunity to participate meaningfully in the process through the public hearings. He asked what other form of participation would the presenter be with satisfied with.

Mr Soeker replied that the issue of food security could not be addressed by simply choosing between GM and organic seeds. The real issue was the distribution of and access to food. People were saying that they were bringing in new technology in order to address poverty. It seemed like they were forgetting that we had been able to feed our nations without the technology. He was not opposed to the development of new technology.

He said that there were different types of consultation. Biowatch was particularly concerned with the ways in which important decisions were taken. In some instances it was very difficult to find out how the Executive Council had replied to objections against a GMO application. Members of the public were informed of the decision through newspapers. He could not propose a specific form of consultation that had to be followed. He could not remember any specific objection to Bt 11 maize.

Mr Dithebe said that the requirement that GM products should be labelled might create a perception that everything that was not labelled was not genetically modified.

Mr Soeker replied that labelling was just part of the solution and could not solve all the problems on its own. It would contribute towards the protection of consumer rights. Consumer rights were very important given the impacts of GMOs on human health.

A member asked if the presenter had any suggestions on how to deal with the issue of liability.

Mr Soeker replied that the owner of the patent should be liable for the risks posed by GMOs.

Submission by Bizana Community and Legal Advice Centre
Ms N Mazeka made the presentation. She was concerned with the way the government was dealing with the issue of food security. Small farmers in rural areas were not informed about the disadvantages of GMOs. The worst thing about this was that rural farmers had produced large amounts of white maize which was not marketable, not consumable and tasteless. She stressed the need for public education on GMOs in rural areas. GM seeds were contaminating local grains and were making life difficult for organic farmers. There was a need for education on how to preserve and reserve traditional grains.

Discussion
A member of the Committee asked why GMOs were not marketable and tasteless. She also asked what did the presenter mean by the statement that people should be educated on "the impact of GMOs in the lives of our people as we are already dying of HIV/AIDS pandemic".

Ms Mazeka replied that HIV/AIDS had something to do with nutrition. HIV positive people were expected to eat fresh foods. She wondered if GMOs had the necessary nutrients required by HIV positive people.

Mr Abram said that the issue seemed to be that the public should be educated so that they could be in a better position to choose between GM and organic seeds. He asked in the extension officers of the Department of Agriculture were not educating the public on GMOs. He also asked why were farmers still seating with tons of maize if there was an agreement with the Department of Agriculture that they would equally share the harvest.

Ms Mazeka replied that farmers were still seating tons of maize because there were no markets for people to sell their maize. The maize was already spoilt and there was no much that could be done with it. Farmers were given some assistance with seeds and how to prepare the soil. There was no proper assistance during the harvesting season.

Submission by Elandskraal Balimi Irrigation Scheme
Mr P Bendane (Secretary) made the presentation. He said that the government was not giving the public enough information on GMOs and their impacts on farming practices, the environment and human health. Seed companies also did not tell their companies if the seeds they were selling were highbred or genetically modified. He felt that the government was not building the public’s capacity to understand how the GMO policies and legislation affected them and how they could participate in decision-making processes. He was concerned that farmers might be growing GM seeds not knowing that they were doing so. This strengthened the case for education on the impacts of GMOs on farming practices and human health.

He was concerned that the cost of farming was getting more and more expensive. New products like genetically modified products were adding to the already high costs. This resulted in small-scale farmers being in debt and loosing interest in farming. He felt that genetically modified seeds were contaminating local seeds and that this would result in farmers becoming dependent on seed companies. GM seeds must be kept separate from organic seeds and should also be labelled. They should also be prevented from pollinating local plants. It was important to know who would be liable should GM seeds contaminate local seeds and result in the loss of indigenous seeds.

Discussion
Mr Abram asked well resourced were the farmers in Elandskraal. Was each farmer making an adequate living from farming? He noted that the presenter had appealed for financial assistance. He asked what kind of financial assistance was required. He wondered if the Department was assisting farmers through its extension offices and if farmers had ever approached the Department for assistance.

Mr Bendane replied that the assistance that farmers received was in relation to infrastructural development. Farmers had not made any profits since the beginning of the schemes. The Department was busy putting new irrigation schemes in place.

Mr Holomisa asked what could be the reason for lack of productivity despite the fact that farmers had the necessary infrastructure. There was no indication whether the farmers were using GMOs.

Mr Bendane replied that the was no productivity due to the involvement of middle men. The middle men were responsible for selling the farmers' products. Farmers were not told whether the seeds that they were using were GMOs or organic.

Mr Abram said that the production programme started in 2002. The Department of Public Works had given a total of R6.5 million for infrastructural development. Farmers had been able to install all the infrastructure that was required for farming. He asked if there had been any other follow up support that had been given to farmers from the Department of Agriculture. He also asked if all members of the scheme were still actively involved in farming. He wondered who were the middle men and why farmers had allowed the middle men to be part of their business.

Mr Bendane replied that the Department of Agriculture had helped by ensuring the farmers had access to loans from the Land Bank. The problem was that some of them had been unable to repay the loans. Some of the farmers were still farming. There had not been any production on the land for the past two seasons because the Department was still putting in a new irrigation system. The middle men came from different areas and often asked farmers to grow certain products. The middle men would then buy the products from farmers on agreed terms.

Submission by Phadima Community Development Association
Mr D Komane (Chairperson) made the presentation. He said that farmers did not have enough information of GMOs and policies around them. It was difficult to make any input in the Bill without information on GMOs. Farmers still did not know the impacts of GMOs on human health, environment, economy and farming systems. Genetically modified seeds were very expensive and required capital that small-scale farmers did not have. He was concerned that GM seeds would contaminate local seeds and make farmers dependent on big seed companies. GMOs would cause poverty because poor farmers would not be able to buy seeds and produce food.

He asked if the government would protect farmers against the negative impacts of GMOs. Will there be markets for genetically modified products. Will consumers get sick from eating the products and what would happen ten years down the line should scientists discover something wrong with GMO?

Mr Abrams asked how big was the land owned by the farmers and what kind of resources did they need.

Submission by Kwangwanase Farmers’ Union
Ms T Manzini made the presentation. She said that GMOs affected the rights of consumers and farmers. They had impacts on human health, the environment and the economy. GMOs would contaminate traditional seeds. She appealed to the government to raise awareness around GMOs. The government should commit itself to the promotion of indigenous seeds. GMOs must be labeled.

Discussion

The meeting was adjourned.

 

 


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