Geneticaly Modified Organisms (GMO)public hearings


31 July 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

31 July 2007

Mr L Zita (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism PowerPoint presentation
Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs Presentation
Department of Health PowerPoint presentation
Biowatch submission
Biowatch Small Scale Farmers’ submissions (no written submission)
Hans Lombard submission
Hans Lombard Appendix A, Appendix B & Appendix C
AfricaBio PowerPoint presentation
AfricaBio submission
Mr Musi PowerPoint presentation
SAFeAGE oral submission
SAFeAGE written submission
SAFeAGE additional information

SAFeAGE Annexure 1, Annexure2 & Annexure3

Relevant documents:
Regulations Governing the Labeling of Foodstuffs Obtained Through Certain Techniques of Genetic Modification
Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Act (No 15 of 1997)
Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Act [No 23 of 2006]
Plant Breeders’ Rights Act(No 15 of 1976)

Audio recording of the Meeting: Part1 & Part2

The Committee received presentations from the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Health and Agriculture and Land Affairs, which aimed to explain current practices about genetically modified organisms. Members of the public and civil society organizations then proceeded to make submissions for or against genetically modified organisms and products containing them.

While the independent agricultural analyst Mr Hans Lombard and AfricaBio supported the technology as well as genetically modified products, SAFeAGE and Biowatch argued for greater caution, more research and adequate labeling and monitoring of GM goods. Proponents of the technology strongly believed that GM foods were safe and that labeling was a non-issue, while others felt that GM foods ought not to be sold to consumers without clear and detailed labeling.

The Committee was concerned that the consumers' right to choose what they bought and ate were infringed upon because GM products were not adequately labeled. Concerns were also raised about the potential health risk associated with the products. The Chairperson thought it unacceptable that South Africa’s current production of GM products were informed by market forces and that the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs had not earmarked the percentage of land that they wanted to use for GM crops. He thought it wise to investigate why GM produce and means of production were being promoted in South Africa, while European countries were largely opposed to it, and stressed that the economic issues related to the GMO industry could not be ignored.

Labeling also featured strongly in the debate. It was felt that an industry that was making profits of up to 50% should not object to the labeling of their goods. Members felt that by not labeling GM products consumers were forced to unwittingly consume products that might pose a threat to their health. Lack of labeling meant that consumers were deprived of the information to make informed choices. Concerns were also raised that the GM industry might exploit countries where there was a lack of food security.

Members were also interested in what the difference between organic and GM foods were, the impact of GM farming on the soil and on biodiversity and whether GM seeds could be reused.

When the Committee’s impartiality was questioned, the Chairperson made clear that the Committee had a responsibility to listen to both sides of the debate. The Committee had a responsibility to empower itself with information so that it could make informed decisions that were in the public’s best interest. He requested SAFeAGE to prepare a detailed submission that identified the gaps it saw in the GMO industry and requested Biowatch to prepare a submission on the impact GM agriculture had on the economies of middle income countries. The day’s hearing would form part of an ongoing process.

Chairperson’s opening remarks

The Chairperson welcomed all to the public hearings, which he acknowledged had not been adequately advertised in the newspapers. Fortunately those involved in the debate around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were well organised and the Committee had succeeded in reaching most of the sector’s role players. The Committee had wanted full public hearings to be held precisely because the matter was of public interest and saw that day’s hearings as the first leg in an ongoing process. Further hearings could be held in the fourth parliamentary term or in 2008.

The hearings on the GMOs were the latest of a number of hearings the Committee had already held in 2007. So far hearings on the transformation of the tourism and fishing industries as well as hearings on nuclear energy had been held. Like the GMO debate these were topical issues and it was important for the Committee to get input from the public. He hoped that that day’s interaction would be enlightening and would empower the Committee to adequately participate in the debate and effectively do its oversight.

The GMO issue was very complex. It involved revolutionary techniques for increased production yet despite scientific advances there was no way human beings could completely comprehend the implications tampering with billion-year-old natural processes might have. One had to tread carefully and it was important for the Committee and the public to understand the process and the risks it entailed. As public representatives, Members of Parliament had a duty to ensure that the interests of the public were defended and protected at all times.

Inviting all presenters to robustly participate in the discussion, he added that once the hearings had been concluded, Parliament would debate the matter and would take a resolution to which the respective authorities would be obliged to respond.

Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs and Department of Health Presentations
Mr Fundisile Mketeni, Deputy-Director General Biodiversity and Conservation (DEAT), Dr Julian Jaftha, Director: Genetic Resources (DALA) and Ms Renusha Chada, Assistant Director Chemicals Safety: Food Control (DOH) made individual presentations in which they reflected the current positions of their respective departments on genetically modified organisations and the environment, agriculture, food safety and labeling.

Mr D Maluleke (ANC) thanking DEAT for a thought provoking presentation and gathered that it was in the process of devising legislation that would address the public’s concerns regarding GMOs. He asked if any GMO-containing products were being distributed in South Africa.

Dr Jaftha replied that in South Africa only three commodities contained GMOs: cotton, maize and soybean. Any other product containing any of these crops might thus also have some GMO content.

Mr Maluleke asked if everyone in the agriculture community held the same view as far as GMOs were concerned. He asked what precautions had been put in place to allay the fears and protect those farmers who were opposed to GM crops from cross pollination from the fields of farmers who grew GM crops.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) asked if companies who sold GMO seeds had a responsibility to inform buyers of the make-up of the seeds. She asked if there was any capacity to trace who had bought the seeds and what had happened to them. Should any problems arise at a later stage, seeds could then be traced and analysed. This would be particularly important in relation to allergens. She added that once a seed was “out there” it had a life of its own and one could not pull it back again.

Dr Jaftha explained that GMO permit conditions were specific about how farmers should plant there GMO seeds so as to ensure that the spread of pollen and insect resistance was limited. GMO seeds were very clearly marked and came with specific instructions. Permit conditions placed an obligation on applicants to inform the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs (DALA) of certain activities. These included obligations about the monitoring of the performance of the GMO and keeping accurate records so that should problems arise DALA would be able to trace consignments.

Ms Chalmers asked if the DEAT had enough capacity and dedicated staff to assess the risk to the environment of the contained use GMOs. Such capacity would mean that should problems arise there was some accountability and continuity within the Department. The GMO matter was an ongoing concern, which was becoming more profuse worldwide.

Mr Mketeni explained that when the matter of GMOs was first raised, DEAT established a dedicated directorate under the Biodiversity and Conservation branch. Even Section 78 of the National Management: Biodiversity Act was too vague in terms of what DEAT was expected to do. Over the last two years they had developed a risk assessment framework that was meant to enhance the already existing risk assessment tools. Due to the complexities of the framework and the interest of the public, the framework still had to be finalised. The directorate comprised six officials and a director. DEAT was also developing a bio-safety research strategy that would ensure that they were au fait with the latest developments in the area. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was an additional tool that could be instituted should an individual feel that there was a need to do so. He added that work in the GMO area was ongoing.

Dr I Cachalia (ANC) asked if GM crops could contribute to greater food security in Africa. He asked if there was any truth to the statement that GMOs could contaminate and even destroy organic crops. He commented that if GM crops were properly labeled, many consumers would be able to make informed choices as to whether to buy a product or not. Many poorer consumers might not be able to so freely make choices about what they bought. It would thus be the Government and DEAT’s responsibility to ensure that consumer products were safe.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) commented that the GMO debate was complex and had “to a great extent been rushed through”. Parliament owed the public an explanation and the debate should thus be extended beyond Parliament. He suggested that in order for the public to be better informed and involved in the debate, a summit involving all stakeholders should be held. He asked for an update on the status of protocols dealing with GMO products.

Dr Jaftha replied that although a number of African countries had acceded to the protocol, implementing it was problematic since most African countries struggled with developing their domestic regulatory framework. The DALA’s African Agricultural Development Programme was involved in assisting a number of African countries in putting the necessary regulatory framework in place.

Mr Mokoena asked if countries such as Zimbabwe, which were in turmoil and suffered food shortages, were not open to exploitation by the GMO proponents. Such countries could be subjected to “culinary rape” due to the surreptitious slipping in of GM crops. People would be forced to eat GM crops or face starvation.

Mr Mokoena thought that there ought to be a global database containing GMO-related information. He asked if there was any truth to the perception that while the countries of the West did not buy into GM crops, they used Africa, which was much poorer, as a springboard to experiment with GMOs and profit from it.

Dr Jaftha explained that there was parallel development - methods involving GMOs was but one part of the agricultural biotechnology strategy that was developed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and which DALA supported. It formed part of the options that were being explored for improving agricultural productivity. DALA also did research into the development of conventional seed varieties.

Dr Jaftha said that DALA was working towards the establishment of its own national biosafety clearing house, which would serve as its own information portal. Applications would then be more easily accessible for instance. DALA and DST continued to interact in an effort to improve public understanding of biotechnology.

Mr Mokoena asked where public liability lay should anything go wrong with GMO agriculture. He asked if the Department of Agriculture was ultimately accountable should anything go wrong.

Dr Jaftha explained that the liability regime proposed in the Genetically Modified Organisms Act (No 15 of 1997) provided for full-based liability i.e. there had to be proof of negligence before someone could be held liable. This approach was in line with how liability was determined in other areas of the law. The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs had agreed to such an approach.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) said that the last time she had heard of GM pollution was ten years ago when a Canadian farmer had appeared before the Committee and told them of how he had been accused of planting GM crops, which had then polluted another farm. Since then, evidence to prove the veracity of all the frightening stories of harm to animals or people have been received.

Ms Ndzanga said that, while doing shopping, she had recently been told not buy organic vegetable since they rotted easily. She asked if GMOs would not hold benefits for those people who lived in areas that were very hot and dry and not conducive to farming. Was not the anti GMO lobby part of a ploy aimed at ensuring that “our people remained poor for many, many years.”

Dr Jaftha explained that DALA’s Safety and Quality Assurance Directorate was developing specific regulations around organic products. Part of the problem was that at present some farmers used overseas certification, which was not endorsed by the South African Government and thus was not subject to government control or South African law.

Ms Ndzanga pointed out that she had not said that GM products were being produced in South Africa. She merely asked that during the course of the hearings, presenters might give evidence of the supposed damage that GMOs caused to humans, animals and the environment. She reiterated the difficulty experienced by those people living in deep rural areas that were not conducive to farming.

Dr Jaftha apologised saying that he had not intended to insinuate that the Member had said that genetically modified vegetables were being sold in South Africa. He explained that often it was assumed that conventional varieties of fruit and vegetables that were larger than usual had been genetically modified. He had wanted to emphasise that there were only three types of genetically modified goods in South Africa.

The Chairperson asked if DALA had enough inspectors to oversee the planting of GM crops.

Dr Jaftha explained that DALA had a directorate dedicated to inspection services. Officials were given the necessary regular training to ensure that they were capacitated to deal with GMO-related matters and reported to the registrar on a regular basis.

The Chairperson wondered what DALA’s strategic view regarding GMO farming was and what percentage of South Africa’s agriculture it had earmarked for GMO crop production or whether the production would be determined by the market.

Dr Jaftha was unaware of any specific DALA policy on a specific percentage of GM crops to be cultivated. Production was determined by market forces. He would consult his colleagues and could provide a definite answer at a later stage.

The Chairperson made clear that the fact that the market determined the scope of use of GMOs was a problem. The logic that the market should determine that scope was flawed as the whole South African market could end up “GMOed”. That would not be in the interest of the country, consumers or future generations. He thought that the original character of species should be preserved. He was adamant that the prevalence of GM crops could not be determined by market demands and the fact that DALA did not have a clear idea of how much of South Africa’s land would be set aside for GM crops was a ”massive blind spot” and presented a problem. DALA should within the following two months give the Committee a very clear indication of what the projections were and how they had been determined.

The Chairperson questioned DALA’s statement that it was committed to giving access to information especially in the light of the fact that it took the non-government organization, Biowatch, five years and a court ruling to gain access to information held by DALA. He sought clarity on what exactly DALA did to encourage public awareness and to adhere to the Promotion of Access to Information legislation.

Dr Jaftha said that a careful study of that court judgment made it clear that while DALA had a responsibility to provide access to information, the applicant had not been clear about what information it required access to. As indicated in the presentation DALA handled confidential business information and giving access to all such information would pose a security risk. He emphasised that DALA had never intended to deny access to information and had, in line with the court ruling, responded to the more detailed information request.

The Chairperson asked how DALA went about promoting public awareness around GMOs.

Dr Jaftha noted that he had earlier referred to the collaborative efforts between DALA and the DST. The DST could perhaps provide a more elaborate response.

A DST representative responded that the Public Understanding of Biotechnology Programme, which had been running for three and a half years now, was aimed at promoting a clear and balanced understanding of the scientific principles of biotechnology and at stimulating public debate. It created awareness through cartoons, stage dramas, dramas, role model campaigns and courses. Upon review it was found that the programme reached learners rather than the targeted general public, rural and urban. The DST then did a survey to determine how it could best reach the public at large and found that it would have to explore radio and television broadcasting as well as ensure that they did these campaigns in mother-tongue languages. The challenge was that the programme was small and under-funded. There were not enough such material but the DST was working on this.

The Chairperson thought it a contradiction that in “overdeveloped Europe”, people did not want to consume foods containing GMOs and insisted on such foods being labeled, yet companies from those countries promoted these foods in Africa.

Dr Jaftha thought it best to allow the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to give a response since they were more familiar with issues related to markets and trade.

The Chairperson wondered why there was such reluctance to the labeling of GMO-containing foods and asked for clarity on global best practice for labeling.

Ms Chalmers wondered how DALA managed field trials in confined areas and ensured that seed spread by traditional fertilizing agents such as birds and insects was limited. She pleaded for a clear answer to a matter which she thought would present a huge challenge.

Dr Jaftha said that the field management usually involved de-tasselling, bagging as well as spatial and temporal isolation of the trial. He could provide more detailed information on the measures to ensure that the possible spread of the GMOs was limited.

Ms Chalmers noted that DALA mentioned GMO hybrids. She said that almost everything one consumed nowadays was a hybrid of some sort. She asked DALA to give clarity on the statement that in the second stage of GMO farming, the GMO no longer existed in its original form and asked if that implied that there would be a fundamental change in the genetic structure of the plant once it had finished its growth cycle.

Dr Jaftha replied that in terms of their hybrid biology there was segregation of the genes in the F2 generation. The GMO did not suddenly vanish into thin air. In terms of reproductive biology, hybrids in the F2 generation experienced that particular segregation. He could provide the Committee with a presentation that detailed what happened at the F2 generation stage.

Ms Chalmers asked what South Africa’s stance was regarding the reports that Monsanto produced seeds that could only be used once. When these reports were received in India, it caused an outcry because small peasant farmers could no longer access a second generation of plantable seed. Monsanto had been forced to curtail their production of such seed.

Dr Jaftha explained that all varieties of GMO were registered under the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act (No 15 of 1976), which allowed farmers to re-use farm-saved seeds for their own consumption.

Mr Maluleke had seen a brochure about a smallholding in Bronkhurstspruit that produced GM corn. He wondered what precautionary measures ensured that consumers from the townships who bought from street vendors, were warned that the maize they bought might contain GMOs.

Dr Jaftha thought that as the issue related to labeling, the question would perhaps be best answered by the Department of Health (DOH).

An American observer at the meeting said that in America Monsanto was able to claim rights to seeds transferred through either contamination or cross pollination. He wondered what policies and frameworks South Africa would put in place to prevent problems.

Mr Maluleke, standing in for the Chairperson, explained that questions were restricted to Members of Parliament.

Ms Ndzanga asked if a case such as the one of the Canadian farmer she had earlier referred to earlier, had ever been reported in South Africa.

Dr Jaftha replied that while he had an idea of what the Member was referring to, he did not have the details at hand. He thought that the Monsanto representatives were better able to respond to the question.

Dr Jaftha added that DALA had made detailed submissions to the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs. Many of the questions the Members had raised that day had been responded to in those submissions. DALA could provide the Committee with those submissions.

Dr Cachalia asked what the nutritional difference between organic foods and GM foods was.

Ms Chanda replied that some of risk assessments that had been done took into account nutritional or compositional status of the GM food compared to the conventional equivalent. Only if the GM food had been nutritionally enhanced would there be a difference. She added that one could not make a blanket statement about whether conventional, organic or GM foods were nutritionally better – one had to consider each case individually.

Dr Cachalia asked how an ordinary consumer would be equipped to make an informed choice when shopping.

Ms Chanda replied that the acknowledgement that consumers had the right to know what they ate was the fundamental reason why GM food ought to be labeled. One however had to consider the costs and benefits of labeling: would it increase the price of food and thus make it less accessible to poorer people. She warned that all aspects needed to be taken into account before making labeling mandatory else one might end up pitting “the right to know” against “the right to eat”.

The Chairperson was interested in what the global best practice for food labeling was. Considering that South Africa was always told that it had to be globally competitive, in that area it would also have to be in line with the rest of the world.

Ms Chanda replied that as indicated in the presentation South Africa did take cues from Codex Alimentarius (an international body involved in food safety) of which it was a member state. The debate on the subject of labeling was ongoing and polarised. The European Union normally demanded mandatory labeling while in America that was not the case. At the last meeting of the Codex Alimentarius labeling committee, a working group was formed that would deliver an outcome on the matter for its members. At this point, labeling was up to each individual member state.

The Chairperson asked if an interim measure for labeling was in place. He asked for clarity on the statement that 'South Africa was in a unique situation that should be taken into account when talking of labeling'.

Ms Chalmers noted that the presentation initially indicated that the Regulations governing the labeling of foodstuffs obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification (R25 of 2004) was specific to GM foodstuffs. Later the presentation stated that GMO labeling required identity preservation systems (IPS), which were not well implemented in South Africa. The lack of implementation was due to the impact it would have on pricing, that there were not enough resources, that GM foods were generally considered safe and that the current labeling provisions were considered adequate. She sought clarity on what the R25 regulations thus covered.

Ms Chanda explained that the R25 regulations spoke of GM foodstuffs only. It specified which foodstuffs had to be labeled and regulated the conditions under which claims of voluntary and GM-free status had to be validated through laboratory tests.

She added that due to the lack of consensus and ongoing research and debate on labeling, legislation relating to it had to be interim. The South African legislation “would be changed as expected” should there be international information as well as information specific to the South African situation.

Ms Chanda said that the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) drafted the IPS. It required a cost benefit analysis for the implementing of these systems. Such analyses would have to start on farms at the sowing of the GM seeds. It was important to understand the SA situation before considering mandatory labeling and warned that enforcing and policing it would, at present, prove difficult.

The Chairperson thought it important to understand the underlying economic consideration at play in the debate around GMOs. He was baffled that although those involved in producing GM products were making much profit, they complained about the cost that labeling would have. He suggested that the manufacturers' concern that street vendors would not be able to buy the more expensive labeled GM products could be addressed if they used the massive profits they made to subsidise such vendors so that they could afford the labeled products.

Ms Chanda said that considering her lack of expertise she was uncomfortable with responding to the matter.

Dr Jaftha suggested that the DTI representative should respond to the question.

Ms Elise Koekemoer from the Agro processing division within the DTI reiterated that there was no consensus on the labeling issue internationally and that it was up to individual countries to determine how they would go about it. The EU legislation did not necessarily discriminate against GM foodstuffs - the major retail groups in these countries actually set the standards of what would be sold. South African retail groups were starting to do exactly the same - certain supermarkets had developed their own GMO requirements and had put in place their own systems. She said that organic products were often more expensive than the conventional equivalents sold in the shops that catered to lower income groups. It was lucrative for more expensive stores to sell organic foods but it was the market forces and the demands of the clients that drove their sale.

The Chairperson pointed out that the economic question was two pronged. He wanted clarity on the apparent disjuncture between the West and poorer nations on the matter. Further, given the profits GM product manufacturers made, why could they not absorb the cost of labeling?

Ms Koekemoer said that the matter centered on consumer demand and whether labeling should be enforced. If labeling was mandatory for street vendors for example, it would become a cost implication for someone who did not have the demand in the first place.

The Chairperson commented that it seemed as though in “overdeveloped countries” consumers wanted organic foods rather than GM ones. He wondered why South Africa was on the “GMO bus” when globally it was not the desired position and asked if South Africa was not creating “a bit of a disjuncture”.

Ms Koekemoer explained that her directorate was busy with a ‘fridge study’ looking at the benefits of the organic market and whether South Africa benefited as it did internationally. The media often reported that there was much profit to be made in the organic market but in actual fact a cost benefit analysis had not yet been done. One often found that small producers wanted to go into the organic market when that market actually appeared to be very high risk.

She emphasised that before the Government could promote entry into certain markets, it had to make very sure that they were fully aware of all the implications such a move would have. The sale of organic or GM products was not normally influenced by governments being for or against products, but was market driven - supermarkets often developed their own requirements and these were not enforced by governments.

The Chairperson, dissatisfied with what he called an unconvincing response, said that he would abandon the matter since he did not want to debate it then.

Mr Mketeni said that there was much uncertainty about the prevalence of organic foodstuffs. The facts needed to be verified and the Committee needed to be given accurate information.

Dr Jaftha recalled that Ms Ndzanga had referred to organic foodstuffs rotting faster than conventional ones. In addition to certification indicating that food was organically produced, there were other regulatory demands such as ensuring that the exported product did not present a risk to the importing country. These were issues that also needed to be addressed. Food that was produced organically also had to comply with measures protecting animal- and plant health. These formed part of the stringent requirements of some European countries.

The Chairperson hoped that more light would be shed on the economics of the matter as the hearing progressed. The issue was major and the Committee could not “proceed as though there was no controversy”. He added that it was important that popular radio and television programmes as well as advertisements that spoke to biotechnology and GMOs pros and the cons were aired. People had to be informed so that they could make choices. If the market demanded certain products, consumers still had to have knowledge and choice.

Biowatch submission
Ms Leslie Liddell Director made the presentation which was followed by oral submissions Ms Tholakele Manzini, a small scale farmer from KZN, Ms Beatrice Ndimande and Ms Nomlindelo Mathenjwa, both small scale farmers involved with the Makhathini Cotton project and Mr Lawrence Mkhaliphi who was the Biowatch outreach facilitator in KwaZulu Natal. Biowatch’s presentation covered the regulation of GM crops in South Africa as well as the current labeling and traceability situation. South Africa was lacking in all these areas and the organisation argued for stricter control, such as mandatory labeling and traceability, over GM crops.

Ms Manzini represented a farmers’ organisation that multiplied traditional seeds and formed a seed food bank. They distributed the stored seeds to the locals. She explained that it had been difficult to find the seeds initially and they had had to go from house to house to collect them. In November 2006, due to poor rainfall, they had harvested very little. She felt that if they had used GM seeds the yield would have been non-existent. She explained that factors such as poor area soil conditions and global warming they opted to multiply the seeds at household level. This also made it easier for people to start a food security programme. There had also been an intervention by DALA whereby they escalated the seeds and tested them for viability. They had also tried to run a traditional restaurant that promoted traditional foods. Like Biowatch they felt that labeling was necessary so that consumers had a choice. Cross-pollination of traditional varieties by GM seeds presented problems.
Ms Ndimande and Ms Mathenjwa supported by Mr Mkalipi spoke of the difficulties they have experienced since the started growing biotech (bt) cotton. While the cost of production of the GM variety had escalated, the price they could sell for had decreased. They told the Committee that contrary to what GMO proponents were arguing, the yield from bt cotton was exactly the same as from the traditional variety. The reduced income from bt cotton meant that the community was struggling to make ends meet. They pleaded with the Committee for its intervention.

The Chairperson addressed Ms Manzini in Zulu and thanked her for coming all the way to Cape Town to make her presentation.

Mr Maluleke said that considering that “you are what you eat” the labeling of consumer products was critical. He was disturbed that research in the Free State indicated that while many foodstuffs claimed to be GMO free, tests revealed that that was not the case. It was misleading and unacceptable.

Dr Cachalia asked if there was any evidence of the potential impact that GM crops had on biodiversity.

Ms Liddell explained that there was a possibility that GM crops could contaminate other crops, that superweeds could develop, that there could be a proliferation of pests, increased pest resistance and weed diversity could be reduced. GM crops could also have a negative impact on non-target species that were harmless or beneficial such as the monarch butterfly of Canada, which was disappearing.

Dr Cachalia sought more information on the 39 countries that had ratified the Cartegena Protocol on Biodiversity. He asked for Biowatch’s comments on reports that France would increase its production of bio tech maize (bt maize) from the 5 000 hectares produced in 2006 to 50 000 hectares in 2007.

Ms Liddell said that she was not in a position to comment on these reports.

Mr Mokoena was pleased that Ms Manzini’s organisation had opted to use traditional seeds. The Committee had visited the wetland area she came from in 2006. He wondered what would have happened to those wetlands had the farmers opted to use GMOs. He suspected that had the farmers opted to use GMOs, the sanctity of the wetlands would have been disturbed.

Ms Ndzanga commented that normally traditional seeds were planted by women, black women in particular. The crops required much weeding which was back-breaking work. She asked if Ms Manzini really thought that as a young, black woman, her place was in the field.

Ms Manzini replied that in the olden days people ate the same foods that they produced. People were strong because the food was nutritious and good for their bodies. While she believed that the new crops were good, she felt that one had to be careful of the chemicals used around them. In her area people did not understand what GMOs were. Labeling was very important because it gave people a choice as far as what they consumed.

She explained that working the fields on her farm was not burden as it was a community endeavor and was important to the community. She assured the Member that the entire community was involved in the weeding process.

The Chairperson asked Biowatch to comment on the economic impact GMOs had on underdeveloped countries.

Ms Estelle Randall Biowatch’s communication coordinator responded that many studies had been done to determine that impact but Biowatch had not yet studied the varied findings of these studies. Biowatch has also not done any cost impact analyses. She added that the impact could vary from country to country.

The Chairperson explained that the Committee was interested in the impact labeling had on other middle-income countries.

Ms Randall said that it did not appear as though labeling had resulted in massive food price increases.

The Chairperson requested Biowatch to provide the Committee, within the next two months, with a more comprehensive response to the matter, which he thought was very important. He hoped that civil society would cooperate with Parliament so that the Committee could be empowered with the information it needed.

A member wondered what impact GMOs had on emerging farmers.

A member wondered how indigenous crops would be protected from contamination.

A member asked if DALA had sufficient capacity to research the safety of and monitor GMOs.

Mr Mokoena was pleased to see that Ms Manzini’s organisation opted to use traditional seeds. The Committee had visited the wetland area she came from in 2006. He wondered what would have happened to those wetlands had the farmers opted to use GMOs. He suspected that had the farmers opted to use GMOs, the sanctity of the wetlands would have been disturbed and was pleased that the farmers chose rather to preserve the sanctity and pristine nature of the wetlands would have been disturbed.

Ms Ndzanga commented that normally traditional seeds were planted women, black women in particular. The crops required much weeding which was back-breaking work. She wondered whether Ms Manzini really thought that as a young, black woman her place was in the field.

Ms Manzini said that in the olden days people ate the same foods that they produced. People were strong because the food was nutritious and good for their bodies. While she believed that the new crops were good, she felt that one had to be careful of the chemical used around them. In her area people did not understand what GMOs were. Labeling was very important because it gave people a choice as far as what they consumed.

She explained that working the fields on her farm was not burden as it was a community endeavor and was important to the community. She assured the Member that the entire community was involved in the weeding process.

The Chairperson asked Biowatch to comment on the economic impact GMOs had on underdeveloped countries.

Ms Estelle Randall Biowatch’s communication coordinator responded that many studies had been done to determine that impact but Biowatch had not yet studied the varied findings of these studies. Biowatch has also not done any cost impact analyses. She added that the impact could vary from country to country.

The Chairperson explained that the Committee was interested in the impact labeling had on other middle-income countries.

Ms Randall said that it did not appear as though labeling had resulted in massive food price increases.

The Chairperson requested Biowatch to, within the next two months, provide the Committee with a more comprehensive response to the matter, which he thought was very important. He hoped that civil society would cooperate with Parliament so that the Committee could be empowered with all the information it needed.

A member wondered what impact GMOs had on emerging farmers.

A member wondered how indigenous crops would be protected from contamination.

A member asked whether DALA had sufficient capacity to research the safety of and monitor GMOs.

The Chairperson thanked the farmers for the presentation which gave the Committee insight into what they were struggling with.

Mr Maluleke asked the presenters to elaborate on why the bt cotton could not be sold – was the problem related to the market demands or to the quality of the product.

Ms Ndimande responded that the organisation produced a high quality of cotton, which was graded. Production cost was very high however. When Makhathini Cotton first approached the farmers five years earlier, they purchased the cotton at R4,10/kg. Today the input costs were still high but the price had been reduced to R 2, 55/kg.

The Chairperson asked whether the presenters were saying that after six years the GM crops no longer bore any benefits for the community and that there was no continued value recovery attached to producing GM crops.

Mr Mkalipi confirmed that while the yield had remained the same over the six years, production cost had escalated.

The Chairperson wondered whether it was possible for the farmers to revert to conventional production.

Mr Mkalipi said that no conventional farming was taking place in the area any more.

Ms Chalmers asked whether the farmers had grown conventional cotton before they embarked on the GM project. She was interested in whether the project had failed due to the GMOs or market conditions.

Ms Mathenjwa explained that prior to the GM project they had planted different types of cotton. Today they farmed with bt cotton only and it was very expensive.

The Chairperson asked that the presenters should elucidate how GMOs had effected the production.

Ms Mathenjwa said that the farmers used the same seeds at home and in the fields. At home theu used no fertilizer and no herbicide. The expenses thus were not the same.

Mr Mkalipi said that the farmers could only speak to the cost incurred since starting to grow bt cotton as well as the marketing involved. They could not speak to the cost to the environment. He added that in the case of maize there was much cross-pollination and that presented a problem. Traditional methods were more holistic.

Dr Jaftha said that according to his understanding of the institutional arrangements around how seeds were acquired, farmers entered into a contractual agreement with the ginning company. According to the agreement the farmers bought the seeds and were assisted in accessing funding from the Land Bank. The agreement required that farmers sold their cotton to the ginning company. There were instances where instead of honouring this agreement to the ginning company, farmers opted to sell their product to a new ginning company and thus pushed up their debt. He hastened to add that the farmers, who presented that day, might not be in the same situation. The DALA ran a number of support programmes, which were meant to be implemented at provincial level. The Comprehensive Agriculture Support programme and finance packages were meant give small-scale farmers access to credit.

He added that upon visits to the small scale farmers at Makhathini the DALA had found that many of them experienced huge returns on the GM technology. Challenges related to the agro-logistical support needed to support the small-scale farmers. He knew that the farmers experienced problems around irrigation and transport to the markets and suggested that a full analysis be done of the challenges they experienced. He added that members should bear in mind that worldwide the cotton price had been extremely low.

The Chairperson thanked the small scale farmers for coming all the way to Parliament to state their case and reiterated that the Committee needed to be familiar with angles of the debate.

After the Chairperson announced the lunch break, Prof Jocelyn Webster Executive Director of AfricaBio sought permission to speak. She thought it unfortunate that South African National Seed Organisation (SANSOR) as well as Prof J Thomson from the University of Cape Town’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology would not be able to appear since they had not been informed of their inclusion in the programme. She added that seeing as there were “at least six or seven” speakers from Biowatch it would be useful to have someone from a farming community using GM crops address the Committee too.

The Chairpersons questioned why these people had not been informed of their inclusion in the programme.

Prof Webster said that the organisations themselves told her that they had not been informed.

The Committee Secretary explained that she had informed all organisations who were included in the programme.

Prof Webster interrupted to point out that she had interestingly heard of her inclusion on the programme form a third party.

The Chairperson sought clarity from the Committee’s support staff and was informed that every one else had received notification of their inclusion on the programme and that the Committee Secretary had ensured that they were all aware of their appearance before the Committee. The support staff were not sure what had happened in the AfricaBio case and found the claim that they had not been informed of their inclusion curious.

The Chairperson said that the Committee was interested in all the views on the matter and wanted to hear both sides of the debate.

Prof Webster said that in that case the Committee would not object to Mr Musi, a small-scale farmer using GM crops, making his presentation. Mr Musi’s request to be included in the programme had been denied. She thought that his exclusion was quite interesting and commented that in her opinion the hearing programme was quite one-sided.

The Chairperson thought such a comment “very unfair”. All the departments that had made presentations were in favour of GMOs. None of them had been critical; only Biowatch had so far been opposed to GMOs. Prof Webster’s statement that only those opposed to GMOs were invited was unfounded and inaccurate. She ought not to imply that the Committee favoured one side of the argument, when in fact Members were interested in hearing both sides. Such an insinuation undermined the Committee.

Prof Webster retorted that in her view Government’s position was neutral and that came through in their presentations that day. AfricaBio had received notification of the hearings from Biowatch. She asked the Chairperson to ensure that in future all stakeholders received information. When she called for more information, “someone” had stated “quite categorically” that there was a clear understanding of how the process would be run and that they were looking for comment from the anti GMO lobby. This information had come from an organisation whose name she could reveal to the Chairperson in confidence.

The Chairperson pointed out that at the start of the meeting he had been very honest about the lack of proper public notification of the hearings. He had learnt of the problems very late. The Committee then approached DEAT who had indicated who the main players in the debate were. The Committee invited the major players from both the anti and pro lobby. He emphasised that while individuals may have their own individual opinion on the matter, the Committee represented the entire country and had to hear all views and wanted everyone to participate. Prof Webster’s comments were offensive.

Prof Webster ignoring the Chairperson’s ruling that the matter had been dealt with, said that as a citizen she had the right to state her case. She emphatically declared that she had not invented her claims that the pro GMO stakeholders had not been adequately informed.

The Chairperson pointed out that what people outside of Parliament told her was of no importance to the Committee. He had had a problem with the fact that the hearings had not been advertised. He had at the start of the meeting indicated that that day’s hearing would be the first leg of an ongoing process. The Committee wanted to hear both sides so that their deliberations would be well informed. People who had been invited to speak on the matter, should be there to do so. He added that if Prof Webster was offended because the Committee had invited other parties who did not share her views, she should not insinuate that the Committee was biased.

Afternoon session

Hans Lombard Submission
Mr Hans Lombard was an independent agricultural analyst whose presentation, “GM Food Safer than Water” was aimed at showing the weaknesses within the anti-GMO lobby. He felt that the anti GMO activists’ argument was unfounded and unsubstantiated and lacked scientific support. Mr Lombard did not think that labeling was necessary and thought that any fears about the safety of GMOs were unnecessary.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Lombard for his “combative” presentation.

Mr Mokoena shared the Chairperson’s sentiments. He asked if a farmer who had chosen to experiment with GM crops would be able to revert to conventional crops or whether GM crops would have impacted in the quality of the soil or the quality of future conventional crops.

Mr Lombard denied that GM crops impacted on the quality of the soil. Farmers who wanted to revert to conventional or organic crops after experimenting with GM crops could do so. People had been planting maize for thousands of years and fear of cross-pollination was not particular to GM crops. Farmers managed to combat contamination by planting their seeds far enough from other crops.

Dr Cachalia asked if GM crops contaminated or destroyed organic crops and asked if the two varieties had different nutritional values.

Ms Chalmers questioned Mr Lombard’s comment that labeling was irrelevant. South African health regulations stated that it was appropriate that a certain amount of money be set aside for the labeling of GM foods if these products were considered to pose a risk to the general public. One of the regulations was that labeling was mandatory should a product contain a likely allergen. She asked if Mr Lombard was of the opinion that all such regulations should be scrapped.

Mr Maluleke thought right of choice very important. That choice would be based on the information available. If labeling to inform consumers of what they were eating was too expensive and labeling was not done, those consumers might choose not to buy the product. He asked if invited to visit his home and offered a Tsonga traditional meal, Mr Lombard would simply consume it without seeking clarity on what he was eating.

Mr Lombard asked if consumers knew where any of the food they bought came from and what it contained. He asked if anyone ever thought that their right to choose was being violated when they bought conventional foodstuffs. He wondered why choice became an issue when it came to GM foods. America and Israel had decided that labeling was not necessary. South Africa, after consultation, had also found that there was no real need for labeling.

Mr L Greyling (ID) said that he had not participated in the debate much because, having sat in numerous GMO hearings, that day’s hearing was not much different. Opponents and proponents stated their case and left parliamentarians exactly where they had been before – confused and not empowered by science-based facts. Parliamentarians like activists were not scientists and had to be empowered so that they could adequately represent the public.

Mr Greyling commented that Mr Lombard had claimed that the anti lobby had presented inaccuracies but ironically the same could be said of his own presentation. The Members had been present when Mr Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian farmer who according to Mr Lombard’s presentation had stolen a Monsanto seed, made his presentation to Parliament about four years earlier. Mr Schmeiser had never wanted to plant GM seed but that those seeds were blown onto his farm from the Monsanto trucks driving pass it. Monsanto then decided to fine him for growing Monsanto crops. The case was relevant as it raised questions as to whether South Africa was protecting its farmers adequately from GMO contamination.

For Mr Greyling too the central issue was around choice. He pointed out that although, as Mr Lombard’s submission indicated, 40 million unaware South Africans ate GM maize and were not complaining about illness, the debate around what was good for one or not, was often divided. The fact remained that consumers had the right to know what they were eating and all they requested were labels telling them whether products contained GMOs or not.

Mr Lombard had also made reference to the salaries anti-GMO activists received, and Mr Greyling commented that should anti GMO activist salaries be compared to the profits made by GMO industry, one would find that the industry benefited the most by far. There was no need to cast aspersions on “people’s right to push a certain advocacy line” as, if one were completely honest, everyone was getting money from somewhere to push a certain agenda.

Mr Greyling pointed out the paradox that although the pro GMO lobby often claimed that there was not much difference between GM and conventional foods and that labeling was thus unnecessary, they vociferously argued for the substantial difference between GM and conventional seeds and wanted GM seeds to be patented. He concluded his remarks by saying that ultimately he was arguing for sanity, choice and the right for people to have the information to make up their own minds.

The Chairperson thought the fact that Mr Lombard was celebrating that millions of South Africans were unwittingly consuming GM products was “very dangerous” and indicated a “fundamentalist” approach. It was imposed on people because the sector dominated the market, and thus consumers had no choice. He thought the approach “immoderate” and frightening and thought it dangerous.

The Chairperson sought Mr Lombard’s comments on Jeffrey Smith’s book “Seeds of Deception” (2005). The book spoke of the health risks that scientific tests of the impact of GMOs on mice and rats, had revealed. He asked if Mr Lombard, in the face of the division around the risks posed by GMOs, still felt that labeling was unwarranted.

Mr Lombard denied that there was a scientific dispute around GM food. No scientist had ever identified that there was a risk to consuming any GM products. Not one of the claims made in Jeffery Smith’s book had been substantiated and the author did not have the support of a single scientist. In his opinion the book was emotional and was merely a good way for the author to generate money.

The Chairperson sought Mr Lombard’s view on the precautionary principle.

Mr Lombard felt that one had to take many precautions on a daily basis for activities such as crossing the street, but one did not necessarily do that. The precautionary principle, in the context of the GMOs, had become politicised. It had been tested in relation to GM maize. The scientific fraternity had not identified the need for a precautionary approach to GM food.

The Chairperson thought that it would be interesting to hear Mr Lombard’s views on whether the production of GM foods should be based on market forces as he was a “personality” within the debate. He asked if Mr Lombard would mind if all of South Africa’s agricultural produce was genetically modified.

Mr Lombard said that if that was the farmers’ choice he would not mind. Farmers saved R400 per hectare on pesticides if they planted GM crops.

The Chairperson questioned if Mr Lombard would not mind the loss of all the indigenous knowledge and farming experience growing GM crops would entail.

Mr Lombard reiterated that although the scenario was unlikely, he would support the move should all farmers decide to grow GM crops. That would be their choice and he did not think that anyone would be able to stop them.

Mr Maluleke thought it interesting that Mr Lombard spoke of the farmers’ choice. That choice would be based on the information they received. He wondered why consumers could not be afforded the right to choose what they ate, when farmers had the right to choose what they planted. He also requested a response to whether the presenter would simply eat a foreign dish without enquiring what it consisted of.

Mr Lombard said that he had long ago visited Ghana and had attended a dinner at which that country’s President at the time, Mr Kwame Nkrumah, sat opposite him. Ghana’s national dish was yam, which was eaten by hand and all guests at the table were waiting to see how President Nkrumah would eat it. The President, eating by hand, asked Mr Lombard why he was not eating the latter responded that he was not familiar with the dish and thus would refrain from having it. This anecdote showed that when one was confronted with something one did not know one could exercise the choice to not eat it!

The Chairperson said that consumers simply wanted the information that would enable them to make the choice President Nkrumah had afforded him at that dinner!

Mr Steenekamp added that it was important to bear in mind that although market forces would determine how much GM product was sold in South Africa, Monsanto only sold their products there where it would add value. The DEAT permit requirements allowed for only a certain percentage of GMOs to be grown in South Africa and did not allow for a situation where 100% of South Africa’s maize could be genetically modified.

The Chairperson asked Mr Lombard to comment on the potential threat GMOs posed to biodiversity especially as the spread of seeds could not be controlled. He wondered whether those who chose organic methods would simply have to accept that they would become the victims of GMO pollution.

Mr Lombard said that no organic maize or cotton was cultivated in South Africa. He denied that GM crops could contaminate organic crops. Farmers took precautions to prevent cross contamination. To his knowledge it was pollen and not seeds that traveled by air. Framers had the choice to buy GM free or conventional seeds.

AfricaBio submission
Prof Jocelyn Webster Executive Director represented AfricaBio which was a technology association in favour of GMOs. Although they supported Codex Alimentarius’ efforts to establish labeling standards for foods derived from “modern biotechnology” they “strongly opposed” confusion of the various and different issues that consumer choice and consumer health. Her presentation centered on the fact that fears about human’s manipulating natural process but not being able to predict the possible outcomes entirely was unfounded. GM technology was merely the speeding up of a natural process and posed no threat to humans.

Mr Muthati Musi was an emerging farmer 11 km outside of Primville in Soweto. He was an – experienced maize farmer, who had been growing bt maize for the past two years. He took the Committee through a slide show which showed the progress and successes of his far where he had hosted an awareness day and had received international observers from as far as Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Mauritius. The enterprise was successful enough for him to be able to make maize donations to a local AIDS hospice. Mr Musi reported that he had invited SAFeAGE environmentalists to his farm so that they could educate him as far as the dangers of GM products but that invitation was not followed up upon. Since using bt maize production has increased by 35 bags.

Ms Chalmers said that everyone was aware that GM crops were already out there, were being eaten all the time and that they were part of every day life. Their fifteen-year existence was however not a very long time and certainly not long enough for one to know what health risks they might contain. There had also been a considerable increase in life threatening diseases. While this escalation could be ascribed to a number of factors, the public had become more careful and wanted to know what they consumed.

She pointed out that the precautionary principle said that “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically". In this context the proponent of an activity rather than the public should bear the burden of proof.” Labeling would be more expensive but the element of fear and concern was part of the public consciousness. In time those fears might be allayed but that time was not yet there. It was the case that some European departments of trade and industry were not interested in GM products and South Africa had to bear that in mind when it came to marketing products abroad. She did not think that the matter could be cast aside.

Ms Chalmers noted Prof Webster’s concern that all sides should be heard and pointed out that the Committee had certainly heard the side of the GMO proponents when Mr Lombard had made his presentation. She thanked Prof Webster for her presentation and pleaded with her to take the Committee’s concerns seriously.

Prof Webster said that she understood that the Committee took the matter seriously and that Members found the technology confusing. Members ought to get all the information they needed to make informed decisions and she wished that the Committee had more time to devote to the topic so that Members would be able to make quality decisions on behalf of the public.

Mr Greyling noted that Prof Webster pointed out that conventional methods of farming released much green house gasses through the use of pesticides. He pointed out that proponents of organic and biodynamic methods could also argue that their methods were more environmentally friendly since they too limited the emission of carbon dioxide. The question was whether one could safely move to another form of agriculture – it was important to remember that both GM and organic products had positive and negative aspects.

He had “a faint glimmer of hope” when he heard that Prof Webster did not have a problem with labeling. The debate could continue but the fact remained that consumers wanted choice and that had to be given to them. He asked whether South Africa was required to label the foods it exported. If that were the case, it would surely be easy to label for domestic distribution too.

Prof Webster responded that it was worth investigating the reasons why Europe had a concern about GM products, while the US did not. She thought that much of the reason was that European countries wanted to “keep other people’s food out” because they had enough of their own. The European countries had been taken to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the four countries including the US, Australia and Canada. The WTO forced them to open their market to GM products that had been proven to be safe. Their refusal had not been based on food safety but they had rather imposed an unnecessary trade barrier. South Africa had to be careful not to put itself in that situation.

She said that it was “definitely not true” that one had to label meat that had been fed on GM maize. One had to label GM products, which comprised of a level beyond 0.9%. It was interesting that the EU did not require one to label anything that had been processed using a GM enzyme even though that DNA or the protein would be detectable in the product. She said that her “cynical nature” believed that that leniency was because most of the enzymes that had been genetically modified were developed in EU countries. There was a lot more to the issue of trade barriers and labeling and the Committee had perhaps not received all the information that day. She invited the Committee to meet some of the scientists and the farmers so that they could get first hand experience of the technology.

The Chairperson said that while it was correct to refer to the million-year long cross breeding process, one had to bear in mind that those processes took place in nature and whatever weaknesses that were involved would have expressed themselves. GMOs came about through human manipulation and humans and no amount of scientific experiment could reveal all the implications. The impossibility of knowing all the implications presented a threat. The Committee had to take these concerns into account. Thinking that a two million year old process could be sped up in a laboratory with no consequences spoke of “undue arrogance” on the part of human beings. It was correct to be cautious and scientists should welcome the interrogation. No one wanted to stop GMO research, but one should be cautious.

Ms Chalmers questioned the genetic improvement of natural processes and asked whether genes from other species were used in the crossing process to produce something other than a hybrid of the natural product. If that were the case vegetarians might be concerned that they were inadvertently consuming animal genes. The public was not sure of the science and where it was going. It was also not clear whether there was sufficient transparency or whether they were merely being shown the “pretty side” of the GMO research.

Mr Mokoena felt that scientists should not play god and wondered how far one could push the frontiers of learning. He related GMO technology to cloning which was also wrought with uncertainty and was a cause of concern. He felt that although one might experience temporary successes, there were boundaries that needed to be respected.

Prof Webster responded that GM technology was nothing new. She explained that there was a million year old bacterium called agrobacterium tumefacien that transferred genes to plants because it had plant genes in its system. It had been around for millions and millions of years in soils all across the world. GM technology was not new. Scientists had merely studied how the agrobacterium tumefacien transferred genes and then deactivated the genes that “caused a problem” and used that system to insert genes that would be very useful. They had not been playing God, “God was playing God long before us”. The DNA that made up genes had four base chemicals that were the same across all species. She understood that vegetarians would not want an animal gene in their food but explained that the gene would actually look the same.

AfricaBio supported labeling in cases where there was something substantially different within the GM product. The health regulations on labeling required labeling in cases where animal genes had been transferred.

She understood the concerns about taking genes from other species and encouraged the Committee to attend a weeklong course on biosafety at Tshwane University in September. The course would explain the safety of the technology. She would forward the relevant information to the Committee.

Mr Greyling requested Prof Webster to go into more detail on what her concerns about labeling were.

Prof Webster responded that she had a problem with demanding labeling for things that were difficult to control. This would present problems in the case of vendors that sold their goods on the side of the road. She felt that many of Members’ concerns were related to the fact that they did not have enough information and knowledge. Once they had been convinced that the technology was safe, they would not be so concerned about issues of labeling.

She agreed, to a certain extent, with the notion that one had to have choice. A European survey had however found that labeling had little value: they labeled GM food, reduced the price and placed it on a shelf. The product flew off the shelf. She thought that if nutritious, safe food was available at a good price, consumers would buy it. In her opinion, that would happen in South Africa too. The fact that the technology had made it possible to produce more food using less land was a key issue when it came to environmental concerns. She would have liked to spend more time with the Committee so that the matter could have been discussed in greater detail.

Mr Maluleke surmised that what Prof Webster was saying was that she would rather die with a full stomach than with an empty one.

Addressing Mr Musi, the Chairperson said that he was pleased to see that there were farmers in Soweto.

Mr Maluleke referred to the first slide and asked what the peg signified that apparently separated the field.

Mr Musi explained that the peg was used to give him an indication of where the BT maize fields started and the conventional crops ended.

Mr Maluleke said that that explanation supported his argument for labeling. Just as a farmer needed an indication of what was what so consumers also had the right to choose between what they wanted to eat and thus needed compositional information to appear on packaging.

Mr Musi explained that he could not tell the difference between the GM and the conventional crops. The only difference was that the conventional crops were often damaged by stock borer.

The Chairperson wondered whether it was possible for Mr Musi to make a living through the using the GM methods. He also wondered how big the farm was.

Mr Musi explained that the farm comprised 21 hectares. He pointed out that had he not been using GM methods he would not have had the crops he was yielding. The savings he made using GM technology empowered him to move into other areas of agriculture.

The Chairperson explained that the Committee was trying to determine whether there would be possible health risks associated with the GM technology. Sometimes one solved one problem, but unwittingly created another. There had so far not been conclusive evidence stating that there were no side effects to GM products. The Committee acted in the interest of the public and thus had to ask the questions it was asking.

Mr Mokoena was encouraged by the fact that an urbanite such as Mr Musi was getting involved in agricultural activities. He wondered whether the fact that that Mr Musi’s enterprise was part of a consortium, affected its sustainability.

Mr Musi explained that not all 21 hectares were arable. Parts were situated too near a river and were thus not ideal for maize farming.

Mr Mokoena asked how Mr Musi got involved in GM agriculture and what his neighboring black farmers felt about the GM methods.

Mr Musi explained that had assisted small subsistence farmers in the area and had heard of AfricaBio via them. He had also attended a summit organised by the MEC 2004 where he had seen pamphlets about BT maize. He had been working maize fields since 1969 and had much experience.

Mr Mokoena asked what the international observers who had visited the farms, had felt about the project. He asked about Mr Musi’s relationship with the white farmers in the area.

Mr Musi replied that the neighbouring white farmers have known him since he was young. They were growing BT maize for commercial purposes too. He was among the farm workers who in 1979 had made it possible for South Africa to break the maize production world record.

In reply to Mr Mokoena asking to what that success had been ascribed, Mr Musi said that despite the sanctions of that time and because of the good rains that year, they had produced a good yield. Now that he was a rightful landowner too, he wanted to continue contributing to South Africa’s maize production.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Musi for his contribution.

SAFeAGE submission
Mr Glen Ashton, Chairperson of the SAFeAGE steering committee made the submission, which argued for “mandatory and meaningful” labeling of GM foods, the entrenchment of the IPS that tracked GM produce and the entrenchment of the EIAs for GM crops. He emphasised that while SAFeAGE did not have a problem with biotechnology, the science attached to genetic engineering was problematic and filled with gaps.


The Chairperson commented that it would have been better if SAFeAGE had made its presentation while the GMO proponents were still present.

Mr Mokoena felt that with all the conflicting information, MPs had been left even more confused. He again called for a summit whereby Members could receive information from not only the pro and anti GMO lobbyists, but also from scientists. The debate needed to be removed from the emotional level and should be taken to the scientific level. Scientists should explain the facts. Members should base their decisions on facts so that they would not later be judged for having taken sides because they were ill informed.

Mr Greyling pointed out that even in science there would be different opinions informed by different points of view and agendas. He reiterated his statement made earlier that the GMO debate was essentially about the right to choose. People had the right to make up their own minds about the scientific evidence as well. He pointed out that one also had to consider ethical questions. Labeling was critical to the right to choose.

Mr Ashton thought that a summit for scientists would be useful but reminded Members that many of the scientists had a vested interest in the GMO industry. One had to carefully consider their subjectivity. Many of the SAFeAGE members came from faith-based groups and their concerns around the labeling and tracking of the GM products were not just health related, but also ethics-based. The ethical and the scientific issues touched on each other. If genetically modified products were released into the environment without adequate monitoring and labeling, consumers were unwittingly taking part in the GMO experiment. The interference with food products in order to make a profit was an ethical issue.

Mr Greyling asked if there was any country that, in SAFeAGE’s view, had an acceptable model for dealing with the GMO matter. South Africa might be able to use such a model as a case study to inform how it would address the GMO matter. It was necessary for the debate to move from the abstract so that actual action could be taken.

Mr Ashton responded that while South Africa had embraced genetic engineering “quite alarmingly”, its neighbours to the North – Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia took a much more precautionary approach. He had presented a paper in Zambia and found that that country had a far more open and inclusive dialogue with civil society as well as the media on the issue. Zambia used Norwegian technology to test all the products. If there was no bio-safety protocol and monitoring within the country, GM products were introduced inadvertently through food aid or trade. If GM seeds were unwittingly planted, Monsanto who held the patent on those seeds, could potentially own the crops and that would have severe implications as far as food security was concerned. New Zealand despite being lobbied quite strongly by the GMO industry had a fairly “open” approach and the United Kingdom had a good approach as well. He reiterated that the GMO industry was extremely powerful and the same people who for decades had “muddied the waters” on behalf of the tobacco and oil industries were doing the same for the GMO industry. All SAFeAGE wanted was food security and safe food for the people. Pointing out that ten years ago, four million people were going hungry and that today the number was still the same, he asked Members to consider what the GMO industry and related technologies had really contributed to promote food security.

Ms Chalmers thought it necessary to consider the broader social implications as well. So far 50 000 jobs had been lost in the cotton industry. She wondered whether in other parts of the world GM agriculture had had the same impact.

Mr Ashton said that the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) had been concerned about the impact of genetic engineering for a while and had discussed it. They heard both sides of the debate and there was much concern about the loss of jobs within the industry. In Brazil massive soy plantations of 1 000 hectares employed three workers now. Mono-cultures have been shown to produce a far lower yield per hectare than concentrated organic or conventional agriculture. The smaller the farm was, the higher the yield. He felt that South Africans had been misinformed – the country was taking the high tech road without having considered all the alternatives such as food security, health implications and ethical issues.

Ms Chalmers thought that DALA should perhaps also be very concerned about the loss of biodiversity associated with GM agriculture. She thought that the summit suggested by Mr Mokoena, would be a good idea as all such matters could then be discussed in great detail.

Mr Ashton agreed that there was a sharp decrease in biodiversity. At present Monsanto was the leading company in genetic engineering, yet ten years earlier it was a chemical corporation. It was the world’s biggest feed company and controlled South Africa’s wheat feed and most of the maize feed. If one paged through some of the leading agriculture publications, one would find that Monsanto controlled the industry – most of the adverts in these publications were by Monsanto or its subsidiaries. The GMO proponents, who had presented earlier that day, represented Monsanto’s interests. The “independent” agriculturalist who had presented earlier was a public relations consultant for Monsanto! Should a summit be held it would be important that the speakers be carefully considered. He realised that issue was difficult and emotive for Members as well as for the public. Fifteen years earlier he would have supported the idea of genetic engineering for greater crop yield but developments since had resulted in his becoming more and more concerned.

He assured the Members that he had educated himself on the topic: despite the fact that he had no university education on the subject, he had been invited to co-edit the book “A Patented World? Privatisation of Life and Knowledge”.

The Chairperson requested SAFeAge to elaborate on the difference between biotechnology and genetic engineering. He commented that there appeared to be a perverse relationship between productivity and how technological improvements were shared. This matter needed to be discussed. It would be worthwhile to consider what the purpose of GM technology would be if the only ones to benefit were the ones who made a profit from it.

Mr Ashton explained that biotechnology encompassed a huge field of endeavors. Aimed at improving conditions for humankind. Making bread, beer or yoghurt or using yeast for instance was ancient forms of biotechnology. Genetic engineering was a particular sub discipline. Proponents thereof chose to refer to it as ‘modern biotechnology’ as that sounded less threatening. Through genetic engineering one introduced foreign genes and crossing species boundaries thus “playing God” i.e. interfering with the natural process. Consumers were thus eating food that contained antibiotic genes, bacterial genes, artificial genes etc. The New York Times published a very interesting article stating that the entire science behind genetic engineering was based on flawed reasoning. For example, that one gene created one disease or that one gene would cure cystic fibrosis. The reality was that the process was a lot more complicated. Originally it was thought that the human genome had about 70 000 genes. It was now down to 25 000 genes – there were some fish that had more genes than humans! In the space of only five years, knowledge on the subject had thus changed dramatically. He cautioned that “we were really playing in the dark” with it. The degrees of complexity went far deeper: it was not just genes that interacted, but hundreds of proteins! SAFeAGE thus felt that genetic engineering was very worrying since it was based on a scientific model that was old, out of date and flawed. The organisation had no problem with biotechnology, which could be used and had been used to improve human life every day. They were not against technology but felt that the precautionary approach should be taken. Russia was demanding that all its genetically modified products be labeled because of the potential danger they posed.

The Chairperson requested SAFeAGE to prepare a comprehensive submission on the gaps within the “GMO regime” so that the Committee could determine how to address them. He realized that it would not be easy but felt that it would be a step in the right direction. A summit might also still be a possibility.

Mr Ashton said that SAFeAGE would be pleased to provide such a gap analysis and would try to do so within the following month.

The Chairperson commented that not many people had been aware that 80% of South Africa’s maize, which was a staple food, was genetically modified. It was inappropriate that GM products were surreptitiously slipped onto consumers’ plates. People needed to be aware of what they consumed.

The Chairperson thought that the day’s interaction had been fruitful and had made certain issues clearer. He reiterated that the Committee should consider all issues to determine what the next step in the process ought to be. Hopefully the interactions on the proposed consumer rights legislation would also bear fruit and offer guidance.

The meeting was adjourned.


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