Tag Archive | biotechnology

Parliament discusses GMOs in SA

MPs consider broader agricultural use of GMOs…

sorghumOn the subject of GMOs, the parliamentary portfolio committee on agriculture  heard in the last session of Parliament from the senior agricultural attaché, US Embassy, on biotechnological details on GM agricultural products.    This was accompanied by recommendations by experts to review of current mechanisms for risk assessment and approval of GMO permits in South Africa.

The last session of the current administration was, as always, a crucial and defining period.    Members of parliament use this period not only to fast track the passage of urgent bills to meet electoral needs but members, particularly majority party members, are increasingly opening up to new ideas and programmes to pass on to incoming committees in the new government.

Urgent need expressed

The approval for 2,4-D crops in an overall sense in the USA has not yet been approved whereas South African regulators have approved the imports of 2,4-D maize and soya.    Haidee Swanby of the Agricultural Biotech Industry and Garell Jones of the African Centre for Biosafety briefed parliamentarians on the urgent need for the sustainability of genetically modified products generally and the processes that went with it, particularly in Africa.

Since 1999, activities involving GMOs have been regulated under the Genetically Modified Organisms Act, 1997 (Act No.15 of 1997). The Act is administered in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The scope of the GMO Act includes all activities involving genetically modified organisms.   Thus, it covers the imports, exports, transit, development, production, use and storage.    Before a decision on the use of GMOs is made, a multidisciplinary risk assessment process is undertaken involving a scientific Advisory Committee and the cross-governmental decision-making body, the Executive Council.

GMO s said to improve food security

Both Swanby and Jones highlighted the challenges in Africa and the benefits of GM products to combat socio-economic constraints.   But importantly, Corey Pickelsmier, agricultural attaché, US Embassy, particularly focused on the biotechnology involved, particularly insofar as weed control and infestation was concerned.

Pickelsmier presented committee members with details on how biotechnology had been scientifically reviewed to be safe and had been identified as a tool for the growing need of food security.

He talked of a 70% increase in food production world wide by 2050 and how India had saved its cotton crop by controlling infestation with GM products; how Uganda had controlled their banana crop and how GM products generally worldwide and the processes with it “had started to become a tool in the agricultural tool box”.

He said by 2050, global population could reach up to 9 billion and there could be less water, less land, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. Plant biotechnology was built on centuries of science which included DNA identification. More food had to be produced.

He denied that there was any credible scientific debate about GMO safety as several science academies had found no risk to human health and GMOs were approved through science based regulatory systems. The fact was put to parliamentarians that several African countries like Egypt, Burkina Faso, Sudan and South Africa, to some extent, had approved GM crops.

A keen interest was expressed by a considerable number of MPs, both majority party and opposition on the idea of encouraging the use of further GMOs, some making the caveat that concerns about the safety of GM crops on health and the likely impacts on the second generation had to be monitored

Most importantly the benefits of additional food to meet forthcoming socio-economic demands were noted.

It was recommended that further investigations be done on GMO safety locally, the chair noting that GM technology was an on-going innovation and the populace had to make a risk-benefit decision in the use of such technology. This information will therefore be passed to the incoming Parliament in the form of the chairperson’s legacy report.

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New biotechnology strategy on the way

Biotechnology and aspects of economy….

A new South African biotechnology strategy, with a focus on the economy and how biotechnology could be used to create a positive socio-economic impact would soon be launched, department of science and technology (DST) has said.

This has now been cleared by cabinet but very little is known on the actual document being prepared by DST other than it will focus on co-ordination between the various government departments dealing with biomass, bio technology, energy and the environment.

Creating jobs

On the subject of creating biofuels and biomass, the department of energy has told parliamentarians that the main objective of any such exercise, if it was undertaken in the agriculture industry, would be to create jobs.       However, such a move towards the use of biomass would not take place if national food or water security was jeapordised in any way.

This answer was given to the portfolio committee on energy by Muzi Mkhize, chief director hydrocarbons, department of energy (DOE), when briefing parliamentarians on DOE’s current strategy towards biofuels.  He said that in the South African context, a specific requirement of the biofuels strategy was to create a link between first and second economies and the focus was not only on jobs but specifically on creating employment in under-developed areas.

No document on the subject at this stage has reached Parliament.

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