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Concern Over GE Spreads to South Africa

S.African parliament to review law on GM foods
By Brendan Boyle

CAPE TOWN, Oct 15 (Reuters) - South Africa's parliament plans an urgent
discussion on whether the country has been rushed into accepting
genetically modified (GM) foods and needs to amend its laws, a senior
legislator said on Tuesday.

Gwen Mahlangu, chairwoman of the parliamentary committee on
environmental affairs, told Reuters she would convene a two-day workshop
this year to review the country's legislation on GM food production and
use.

"We are concerned both about the health and safety aspects of using GM
products and about the consequences for our international trade," she
said.

A number of South Africa's neighbours, facing severe food shortages,
have raised fears over GM food aid. Zambia has conducted its own tests
and will decide next week if it is fit for humans.

Mahlangu said the legislation that has allowed South Africa to pioneer
the use of GM crops in the region was prepared by the apartheid
government and rushed into law months after the election of the first
democratic government.

"In 1994 it was just too soon for the new government to be able to apply
their minds adequately to the new legislation. If we feel the
legislation was rushed, we need to bring back public participation and
amend the laws," she said.

Mahlangu said submissions at a hearing of her committee earlier on
Tuesday had shown that government departments were at loggerheads over
the issue.

"What came out very sharply is that there is no certainty about what the
future holds for us if we go the route of GMs.

"We don't have the controls in place.... It is a very dicey situation
when you can't say to people what they should expect in 10 years time if
they allow GMs now," she said.

QUESTIONS

South Africa is the only member of the 14-nation Southern African
Development Community (SADC) to licence the production of transgenic
crops modified to include genetic components from other organisms that
do the job of pesticides.

Some SADC member countries have criticised South Africa for breaking
ranks with the regional opposition to GM crops. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi
and Mozambique have been hesitant to accept GM grains even in the face
of a threatening regional famine.

Zambia has rejected all GM foods while the others say grains must be
milled to prevent them being used as seed and thus contaminating
existing strains.

Mahlangu said a Department of Trade and Industry official had told the
committee on Tuesday that GM grains were used only for cattle feed and
not for human consumption.

She said he was contradicted by a Department of Agriculture official who
told the committee they were also used for humans.

"If we have trade and industry as one of the parties to the monitoring
of this thing, not knowing what the crops are being used for, we face a
very serious situation," she said.

Haidee Swanby of the Biowatch environmental pressure group said the
organisation was delighted by the committee's decision.

"We really believe that the issue hasn't been researched enough, that
there has not been enough transparency in drafting the legislation.

"It's not that we think genetic engineering is something evil that must
be banned, but it is such a potentially explosive technology that we
need to go more slowly," she told Reuters.


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