Sunday, February 10, 2008

Biowatch Bulletin



*** Public discussion forum on pesticide control - 20 February ***

Biowatch and UCT's School of Public Health and Family Medicine Occupational and Environmental Health Research Unit are jointly hosting this discussion. Dr George Ekstroem, an international expert in the field, will lead the discussion.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 at 17h00 for 17h30

Conference Room 1 & 2, Barnard Fuller Building, University of Cape Town Medical School Campus, Anzio Road Observatory

Please RSVP to or ring Nicci on 021 447 5939 by
Friday 15 February 2008.

*** Launch of Biowatch DVD - SEEDS OF CHOICE - 28 February ***

We have completed a 15 min documentary about our approach to outreach work.

We are having a launch of the documentary on Thursday, 28 February 2008
from 17h30 to about 19h30 at the TH Barry Theatre at the Iziko SA National
Museum in Queen Victoria Street.

SEEDS OF CHOICE will be on sale through our website ( and through our offices (021 447 5939 or after the launch at an amount R100. Free to NGOs.

South Africa requires GM crop permit applicants to advertise their application in at least three newspapers circulating in the area where the GM crops will be released. This is how the public - and that includes organisations like Biowatch - gets to know of a GM permit application.

We don't have the resources to subscribe to all the possible newspapers in South Africa in which these adverts could appear. So, if you spot an advert for a GM application, please let us know by ringing 021 447 5939, faxing 021-447 5974 or emailing

* Consumer Protection Bill - It's anticipated that this bill will be introduced into Parliament in March, according to Parliament's 2008 provisional legislative programme. An early draft of the Bill called for genetically modified (GM) ingredients in food to be labelled. Subsequent drafts, however, omitted this clause. Will it be re-introduced when the bill gets to Parliament? In July 2007 Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism held a public hearing on GM food at which the issue of labelling GM ingredients in food came up repeatedly as an important means of enabling consumer choice.

* Amendment of Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is expected to provide an update on
the EIA streamlining process to Parliament's Select Committee on Land and Environment on 12 February. New EIA Regulations came into effect in July 2006.

* National Environmental Management Amendment Bill

This amended the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) of 1998 by providing for tools other than EIAs, among others. The Cabinet approved the Bill in July 2007 and Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism held public hearings on the bill in November 2007. The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the Portfolio Committee on Minerals and Energy will meet jointly on 26 February to try to resolve controversial provisions in the bill related to the competent authority for EIAs in mining.

Biowatch is still awaiting the judgement of Judge Justice Poswa before making a decision about what its next steps will be around an order that it pay the legal costs of Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd., the Minister of Agriculture, the Registrar Genetic Resources and the Executive Council for GM Organisms.

In November 2007, two of the three judges who heard Biowatch's appeal in the Pretoria High Court dismissed that appeal. In the costs appeal judgment, signed by judges Fanie Mynhardt and Mpho Molopa-Sethosa, agreed that Biowatch, in its initial approach to the courts for access to information about the permitting of GM crops, had acted in the public interest, had been substantially successful in obtaining the relief it had sought and had been forced to go to court to get this relief.

Biowatch had appealed before judges Fanie Mynhardt, Justice Poswa and Mpho Molopa-Sethosa for a withdrawal of the order that it pay the legal costs of Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd. and for the statutory bodies to be ordered to pay Biowatch's legal costs. The costs order arose as a result of Biowatch's successful case for the government to provide access to information about the permitting of GM crops.

Major food and clothing retailer Woolworths has committed itself to supporting locally-grown organic cotton. In January Woolworths announced it was setting up a pilot programme to source organic cotton in South Africa.

The programme is a collaboration with ComMark, Cotton SA and Organic Exchange, an international charitable organisation promoting organic agriculture and the Agricultural Research Council's Institute for Industrial Crops. The three-year programme aims to develop a viable business model for organic cotton farming in South Africa.

This year it will involve pilot plots in North West, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and the Makhathini Flats in KwaZulu Natal - where GM crops (GM cotton) first gained a foothold in South Africa. Demonstration plots in Makhathini Flats will focus on empowering small-scale farmers and research.

Woolworths is the third largest consumer of organic cotton in the world - after USA corporations Wal-Mart and Nike - and has committed to buying the crop from the pilot programme when it is harvested this year. In 2007, Woolworths used 1.8 million kilograms of organic cotton fibre and estimates that it will use about 2.2 million in 2008. But all the organic cotton they use is sourced outside South Africa.

The top 10 organic cotton-producing countries are Turkey, India, China, Syria, Peru, the USA, Uganda, Tanzania, Israel and Pakistan. Global organic cotton products earned 1 billion dollars in 2006 and estimates project a tripling of this amount by the end of 2008, according to Organic Exchange.

USA biotechnology company Arcadia Biosciences is planning to use money paid by green consumers to offset their flights and by companies that go carbon neutral to fund the planting of genetically modified (GM) crops. Arcadia is working with the Chinese government to reward farmers growing the company's GM rice with carbon credits which they can sell for cash.

Arcadia says its GM rice needs less nitrogen fertiliser and that farmers growing it would lower their emissions of nitrous oxide. The Chinese scheme is scheduled to be up and running by 2012. (The Guardian 8 January 2008)

More than half of all fertiliser applied to soil ends up in the atmosphere or in local waterways but agriculture has the potential to change from being one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters to a net carbon sink. So says a new report from Greenpeace International.

Solutions include reducing the use of fertilisers by applying only the amount that crops need, protecting the soil by increasing its carbon content through measures such as cover crops, improving rice production by keeping rice paddies dry out of season, adopting methods that increase yield without depending on fertilisers and cutting the demand for meat, especially in developed countries.

"The future of farming lies in agriculture that works with nature and with people, not against them. Millions of farms on all continents already prove that organic and sustainable farming can provide sufficient food, increase food security, replenish natural resources and provide a better livelihood for farmers and local communities," the report says. The report was written by Professor Pete Smith, a lead author of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and his research team at the University of Aberdeen.

South Africa's long-term climate change mitigation scenario study is in its "final stretch", Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has been reported as saying. Once the study is finalised it will be submitted to Cabinet which will use it as a reference - together with other related climate change documents - to deliberate on legislation to give effect to South Africa's policy.

More than 80% of consumers in the USA prefer to buy dairy products that do not contain the GM hormone rBGh (also known as rBST), surveys show.

Rising consumer demand prompted Starbucks to making all its milk supply free of the GM hormone by the end of 2007, followed by USA grocery retailer Kroger and several major dairies that required their milk supplies to be free of Monsanto's GM hormone.

A report funded by the US Department of Agriculture found that 89% of Americans want mandatory labelling of food containing GM ingredients. A poll commissioned by the GM industry showed only a minority of Americans viewed GM foods in a favourable light. Since 2006, several US federal district judges have slammed the GM regulatory system in the USA and called for a halt on approvals of new GM field trials with weedkiller tolerant bentgrass until more rigorous environmental reviews are conducted and a halt to further commercial sales of GM alfalfa seeds.

About 70% of USA processed food contain GM ingredients. Like South Africa, the USA does not have mandatory labelling of GM ingredients in food.

In South Africa, Monsanto was twice ordered to withdraw adverts claiming that GM food is safe. And South Africa's GM regulator turned down an application to use GM yeast in wine fermentation. A decision on a field experiment with GM grapevines is still pending.

France has introduced a ban on Monsanto's MON 810 GM maize - the only GM crop grown in that country. And European Union environment officials, having determined that two types of GM maize could harm butterflies, modify food chains and disturb life in rivers and streams, have proposed a ban on the sale of the maize seeds. Pioneer Hi-Bred, Dow Agrosciensces and Syngenta manufacture the seeds.

In Brazil, there were no GM approvals in 2007, following a federal judge ruling against the use of maize manufactured by Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta.

Greece has extended its ban on GM maize seed for a further two years and has banned the import of GM maize. And Cyprus wants to declare itself GM-free, according to its Agriculture Minister.

Most consumers surveyed in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou would not choose GM food (65%) and would not buy GM rice (77%). China is the world's top rice producer and has shelved proposals for commercial production of GM rice for the fourth time since 2004.

Forty-one of the world's largest rice exporters, processors and retailers have issued written commitments to stay GM-free and rice producers in the USA have called for a ban on commercial GM rice growing and all outdoor experimental planting of GM rice. This follows the major contamination incident in 2007 when an experimental and illegal strain of GM rice produced by Bayer was found in rice consignments exported from the USA.

Meanwhile, a non-GM drought-resistant maize variety has been developed in The Philippines. The maize variety, developed by a Philippines scientist was able to survive drought for 29 days.

In Kenya a non-GM maize has been developed to withstand the larger grain borer - one of the most damaging pests for maize. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) developed the maize strain.

Other non-GM crops that have been developed include allergen-free peanuts, Striga-resistant cowpeas, beta-carotene rich sweet potatoes, virus-resistant cassava, iron-fortified maize and Pierce Disease resistant grapevines. (GM Watch 8 and16 January 2008)

The exploration of biological material for commercially valuable genetic and biochemical properties has the potential for major benefits - new drugs to cure diseases, innovative food and plant products, technology for developing countries and potentially rich rewards for those providing the biological material and knowledge. But bioprospecting has been bedevilled by mistrust, misunderstanding and regulatory confusion. New negotiations are now underway
to develop an international access and benefit sharing system and to resolve some of the intractable issues.

Biowatch trustee and senior researcher at the Environmental Evaluation Unit at the University of Cape Town Dr Rachel Wynberg and Sarah Laird, director of People and Plants International examine the key policy issues in BIOPROSPECTING: TRACKING THE POLICY DEBATE, an article published in the December 2007 volume of Environment. A copy of the article may be obtained from Rachel Wynberg at or purchased from the journal at

An editorial in the journal Nature has criticised the withdrawal of Monsanto and Syngenta from the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology.

The Assessment is a four-year project that aims to detail how science, technology and good farming practices can be used to reduce hunger and improve life for rural people in developing countries.

A spokesperson for the agriculture industry body CropLife International told Nature that Monsanto and Syngenta had decided to pull out of the Assessment because their industry perspectives were not reflected in the draft reports.

One of these perspectives is that biotechnology is key to reducing poverty and hunger.

According to Nature, "the views outlined in the draft chapter on biotechnology, although undoubtedly over-cautious and unbalanced, nonetheless do not represent the rantings of a fringe minority. The idea that biotechnology cannot by itself reduce hunger and poverty is mainstream opinion among agricultural scientists and policy makers.

"For example, biotechnology expansion was not among the seven main recommendations in HALVING HUNGER: IT CAN BE DONE, a report commissioned by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. The writing for this report included Kenya's Florence Wambugu, perhaps the strongest proponent for biotechnology in Africa," Nature said.

A meeting to agree on the final text is scheduled for April. The writing and review teams comprise some 4 000 experts include scientists, government officials, representatives from seven UN agencies, farmers' groups, non-governmental organisations and industry.
(GM Watch January 2008, Nature 17 January 2008)

Di Mellon
Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute
Ph: 021 7018145
Fax: 0866 969666
(H) 021 7974589
cell: 072 2776035
skype: safcei

“Faith communities committed to cherishing living earth.”


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andre said...

Dear Steve,

Please forgive me for using your comment facility for this, but I could not easily find your email address.

I have noticed a number of visits from SAFCEI and believe it might have been you.

As a new blogger I like your site. It has a nice feel about it and your content is interesting.

As a TV Documentary producer I originally specialised in environmental programmes but over the past few years I find myself more and more interested in community development productions... with a major documentary on the outreach of the Anglican Church around the world, which took me to Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Honduras and so forth.

Having looked at my blog I hope you will agree that we clearly share interests in common and if it is not too presumptuous, I would like to ask if we could exhange links between our pages?


andre walters

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