Local and international watchdogs have heaped praise on the genetically modified organism (GMO) regulatory authority, the Executive Council (EC), for refusing to allow open field trials of GM cassava in the country and for rejecting an application by seed company Syngenta for the introduction of its GM maize variety 3272 into SA.
When EC officials denied an application brought by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) to release GM cassava in SA The ARC aimed to genetically improve the crop’s starch content to be used as feedstock for SA’s biofuels industry. According to the EC, the provided inadequate information regarding the stability of the GM cassava’s traits involved as well as the potential for gene flow, and therefore the EC found it could not conduct a proper assessment of the potential risks posed by the crop. In a joint statement, the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) and GRAIN said, “It is appropriate that the South government should be concerned about the gene flow of GM cassava as it has a responsibility to smallholder farmers all over Africa that depend on cassava to feed their families.
”Mariam Mayet of the ACB said the ruling indicated a significant change taking place within SA with regard to GMO regulation. The ACB and the US-based Centre for Food Safety also welcomed the EC’s rejection of Syngenta’s commodity clearance application for its GM maize-for-fuel ethanol variety 3272. The two bodies said this variety was the first GM industrial crop for which commercial approval had been sought anywhere in the world. The ACB said the EC was concerned at Syngenta’s failure to submit crucial biosafety data on 3272. “The rejection confirms our long- standing concerns that biotech company studies purporting to demonstrate safety are grossly inadequate,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Centre for Food Safety.
The EC also found that Syngenta’s 3272 GM maize for ethanol variety could contaminate non-GM maize in SA and thus pose a risk to the country’s maize export market. Meanwhile, for the first time, a GM product cleared as safe food for humans and animals has shown signs of toxic effects in the internal organs of laboratory rats, according to a study published in a scientific peer-reviewed journal. The study, by Greenpeace International and an independent group of scientists, analyses safety test data submitted by Monsanto when the company was seeking authorisation to market its GM maize variety MON863 in the EU. – Lloyd Phillips