Cablegate: South Africa: Embassy Science Fellow From

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: A) PRETORIA 1462; B) STATE 46634


1. (SBU) Summary: Embassy Pretoria was pleased and
privileged to host Dr. Subhash Gupta as Embassy Science
Fellow from September 29 to December 8, 2004. During his
ten-week stay, Dr. Gupta met with research groups at five
universities and two government research councils, private
sector representatives, numerous South African Government
officials, and other biotechnology stakeholders. He made
ten presentations at workshops, conferences and seminars.
At the end of his stay, he gave an extensive outbrief and
recommendations to receptive officials at the Department of
Science & Technology. His concluding remarks encouraged:
the South African government to take a stronger leadership
role on plant biotechnology domestically and beyond; the SAG
to strengthen initiatives for graduate students training in
biosafety; the GMO regulatory body to engage in greater
dialogue with scientists, developers and anti-GMO groups;
and, the office of the registrar for genetically-modified
organisms (GMO) to add several qualified scientists to its
staff, to respond better to anti-GMO pressures. End

Two-way information sharing with research community
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (U) Embassy Science Fellow Subhash Gupta, a senior
biotechnologist from USDA's Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS), gained extensive insights into
plant molecular biology and biotechnology research taking
place in major universities and parastatal research
institutions. He met with groups of researchers at the
Universities of the Witwatersrand, Cape Town, Stellenbosch,
Pretoria, and the North, as well as the Council for
Scientific and Industrial Research and the Agricultural
Research Council. In addition to learning about research
activities underway and hearing local scientists' views of
South Africa's regulatory system, Dr. Gupta shared
information about the U.S. regulatory system for
biotechnology products with the researchers.

Interaction with private sector

3. (U) Dr. Gupta visited local seed manufacturer Pannar
Seeds at their main office in Greytown, KwaZulu Natal
province. He met with the CEO, biotech researchers and
several other key groups in the company. Pannar uses
licensed genetic engineering (GE) technology from Monsanto
in several of its seed products, and also is conducting
significant research, both through conventional breeding
techniques and GE, to address wide-ranging plant pests.
Dr. Gupta also attended a conference of major commercial
agricultural producers, during which he met with sugar
farmers and millers and learned about biotechnology research
in the sugar industry. At this event, Dr. Gupta had the
opportunity to meet Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs
Thoko Didiza.

Many formal presentations, including to key policy group
--------------------------------------------- -----------

4. (U) During his stay in South Africa, Dr. Gupta
participated in several major workshops and conferences
organized by the South African government and by AfricaBio,
a local NGO that supports biotechnology and develops
information to educate and train officials and the public.
He made presentations at a "Bio2Biz Conference" focused on
commercialization of biotechnology, workshops on the
Management of Applied R&D Projects with GM Crops and on Food
Aid and Biotechnology, along with a breakfast seminar on the
global regulatory climate for biotechnology. Dr. Gupta also
spoke to a group of graduate students from all over the
African continent at University of Cape Town's All-Africa
House--reportedly one of his toughest audiences.

5. (SBU) One of Dr. Gupta's most critical presentations was
to members of the national Executive Council on Genetically
Modified Organisms, the regulatory entity for GMOs in South
Africa. Representatives from six different SAG departments
sit on the council, whose secretariat, the GMO Registrar, is
based in the National Department of Agriculture (NDA). On
November 23, he gave a talk entitled "U.S. regulations, risk
analysis and compliance for agricultural biotechnology
products." Based on the knowledge he had built up over
seven weeks in-country, he commended the regulators for the
system in South Africa. He addressed particular issues of
concern, including the treatment of stacked genes,
encouraging adoption of a pragmatic approach. He also added
some discussion of biotech-derived pharmaceuticals, at the
request of a Department of Health representative. Dr.
Gupta's comments were appreciated and well-received,
although due to a tight schedule, there was little time for
questions and answers. On the margins of the session, Dr.
Gupta urged NDA's Julian Jaftha to strike a reasonable
balance and take a practical approach to regulating GMOs.

Start-to-Finish Interaction with DST

6. (U) Department of Science and Technology was an
enthusiastic and attentive interlocutor. The DST Director
for Biotechnology Ben Durham provided Dr. Gupta with a
comprehensive overview of the SAG's activities in biotech
soon after his arrival. DST supported Dr. Gupta's
attendance at events such as the launch of PlantBio, a DST-
sponsored innovation center focused on plant biotechnology
(where he was able to meet Minister of Science & Technology
Mosibudi Mangena), at the DST-supported Bio2Biz conference,
and in meetings with its other biotech innovation centers
and incubators supported by DST. Durham and his colleagues
sought Dr. Gupta's feedback and observations in an extended
wrap-up session on December 3. Dr. Gupta shared his views
of South Africa's regulatory system, the challenges it
faces, and suggestions for addressing the challenges and
engaged in an excellent exchange of ideas with four
biotechnology officials from this highly-supportive
government Department.

7. (SBU) Dr. Gupta's feedback to DST noted the vital and
crucial leadership role South Africa could and should play,
at a regional, continental, and global level, given the
country's scientific expertise, financial support for
biotech development, and progressive regulatory system.
However, he also noted the chilling effect that anti-GMO
pressure groups such as BioWatch and SAFEAGE had on SAG
leadership in agricultural biotechnology.

8. (SBU) Dr. Gupta also discussed a notable shortcoming of
the current regulatory system-the lack of active
consultation with academia and industry, and the distrust
between academia/industry and government regulators. He
commented that this could be caused by fear of the anti-GMO
lobby, as well as the regulator's lack of confidence and
capacity to carry out risk analyses. He encouraged the
regulators to be more open to interaction with researchers
and the private sector, and even the anti-GMO lobby, noting
that this will provide them with helpful insights and
information. He suggested that the GMO Registrar's office
add several positions, including a full-time senior
scientist, possibly through establishment of a prestigious
program for scientists. He also encouraged the government
to organize hands-on risk analysis training to prepare
regulators as well as researchers and developers to deal
with biosafety issues and concerns.

9. (SBU) Dr. Gupta raised another area of concern, namely
the limited availability of local graduate students and the
brain-drain of that limited number of graduates. He
suggested that the government consider providing incentives
to retain graduates in South Africa and establishing science
fellow programs at the post-doctorate or graduate level to
help integrate science and policy.

10. (SBU) Dr. Gupta noted the efforts of DST in supporting
innovation centers and incubators but stressed that efforts
needed to be expanded, to help develop and commercialize
indigenous technologies that address agricultural needs of
the continent. He also urged increased funding for programs
to raise the public's awareness and understanding of
biotechnology, observing that only one such program existed.
DST's Director for Biotechnology welcomed Dr. Gupta's
comments and feedback and sincerely thanked Dr. Gupta for
coming to South Africa. He said he planned to continue
their productive dialogue electronically for the foreseeable

Sidetrip to Botswana

11. (U) Dr. Gupta traveled to Botswana for a productive day-
long program on December 6, organized by Embassy Gaborone in
cooperation with the APHIS and FAS representatives in this

Thanks from Pretoria

12. (U) ECON Section's EST Unit and USDA/FAS Ag Counselor co-
hosted Dr. Gupta's stay. ECON and FAS staff organized and
accompanied Dr. Gupta to as many of his meetings as
possible. Mission appreciated the opportunity to host Dr.
Gupta and thanks State Department, USDA/FAS and USDA/APHIS
for their support of his Embassy Science Fellowship in
Pretoria. We look forward to using the ESF program
regularly to support mission priorities in South Africa in
future years.

13. (U) Dr. Gupta reviewed and cleared this cable prior to
his December 8 departure.


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