Cablegate: Readout of South African Biotechnology Outreach Events

DE RUEHSA #0074/01 0131326
R 131326Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) STATE 160639 B) PRET 000004

1. SUMMARY From October 2 - 6, Paul Green, an agricultural economist
consultant based in Washington, D.C., visited South Africa on behalf
of the International Grain Trade Coalition to discuss with the South
African food and feed industries ways to encourage a broader view of
sustainable food systems and the ramifications of low level presence
of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in relation to trade.

2. Green's trip included a press event and meetings in Cape Town.
He also was the keynote speaker, and expert panelist, at a workshop
on adventitious presence (AP), hosted by AfricaBio, in Pretoria on
October 5.

3. Mr. Green is well known and respected in the South African
biotechnology sector. He is held in high esteem among the public
and private sector and his advice and experience were very well
received. Overall, this trip addressed the informational needs of
the different parties; however, more outreach and interaction are
needed as the labeling and AP debate deepens and presents new
challenges and questions.

Cape Town
4. On October 2, 2009, AfricaBio, a biotechnology stakeholder's
organization held a press conference on food security with
presentations by Mr. Paul Green and Prof. Jocelyn Webster, executive
director of AfricaBio.

5. During the press conference, Mr. Green noted that to encourage a
broader view of sustainable food systems, there needs to be
unfettered global markets and regulatory coordination to assure
access to global supplies of grains and oilseeds. He also
challenged media, farmers, traders, food-marketers, regulators, and
activists to re-define 'food security and sustainability' to include
increases in technology from production and through processing,
packaging and marketing. Current definitions focus more on
assuring adequate food supplies through the adoption of
agricultural-related methods that maintain soil, water, and air
quality for future generations.

6. The adoption of new production technologies, such as GMOs, and
accepting the import of such products, should be included in
strategies aimed at increasing food security and sustainability.
However, those same technologies face hurdles from active opposition
to well-meaning, but unintentional barriers to trade in products of
modern biotechnology or genetically modified.

7. Mr. Green pointed to the example of dozens of individual events
(specific traits) of modern biotechnology in production worldwide
and the number of events and area under cultivation is growing
dramatically every year. However, many regulatory systems are
behind in the risk assessments for food and environmental safety
that will permit them to import grains and oilseeds without concern
for their use as food or feed. He noted that simultaneous approvals
in all markets for all GM events is not feasible and that the
'Asynchronous Approval' issue poses a threat to food supply chains
since exporters from South Africa or any other country will not be
willing to make sales into a country where acceptance is not

8. He encouraged the SAG to adopt the Codex Alimentarius methodology
for managing the presence of such events that have been through a
thorough food safety risk assessment process in at least one
Qthorough food safety risk assessment process in at least one
country. He stated that the Low Level Presence (LLP) process
provides a basic toolbox for countries to formulate policies that
prevent avoidable trade disruptions, while staying on a
science-based risk-assessment and risk-management basis.

9. He concluded by stating that the International Grain Trade
Coalition (IGTC) advises governments and encourages exporters and
importers from throughout the world to address the inherent
asynchronous approvals through pro-trade regulatory processes such
as the LLP framework. He noted that these are the policies that
will permit global consumers to obtain Food Security and
Sustainability in an affordable manner.


10. At the beginning of 2009, the South African Bureau of Standards
(SABS) set up a working committee to look into developing South
African National Standards for the "Requirements for receiving,

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handling, transportation and storage of living modified organisms
(LMO) not approved for general release".

11. It was suggested at a recent committee meeting that this
standard has a direct bearing on GMO commodity imports in RSA. If
the standard were adopted in its current draft form, the National
Chamber of Milling and other stakeholders would be negatively
affected. Previous comments by the milling and grain industries on
the SABS standard were uncoordinated and did not effectively
influence SABS and the GSA to implement realistic and practical

12. To address this, AfricaBio in collaboration with partners,
hosted a one day adventitious presences workshop, where Paul Green,
an international expert on the issue, addressed South African
stakeholders, government regulators, and policy makers on the
possible implications of national regulations impacting on grain
trade globally.

13. The purpose of this workshop was to provide South African
agricultural biotech stakeholders with an overview of the procedures
followed for approval, handling, distribution and trade of
agricultural biotechnology products around the world.

14. The one day workshop on "Adventitious Presence" took place at
the St George Hotel, Pretoria, South Africa on Monday the 5th of
October 2009. The workshop was attended by 32 participants from
Government departments, seed companies, grain trade organizations,
Silo Association, public research institutions, agri-business
chamber, South African Bureau of Standards, Animal and Feed
Manufacturers Association, SA Chambers of Milling, and media.

15. The agenda included an update on the global status of GM crops
and benefits to developing farmers in South Africa by Dr. Dave
Keetch, AfricaBio. Paul Green presented on the status of global food
and feed supply chains, risk assessment of low level presence (LLP),
impacts of regulatory policy decisions on global food and feed
supply chains, and ensuring access and creating national enabling
environments. Mr. Braam Olivier, the Maize Procurement Manager at
Tongaat Hulett Starch, gave a presentation on the importance of
identity preservation in the grain industry in South Africa. He
highlighted some of his concerns with the way grain separation is
handled by the silos and the lack of proper directives and standards
from the department of Agriculture on the procedures for handling
and separating grains. He also discussed his concerns about the
various GMO testing facilities in the country and the fraudulent
issuing of GM free certificates for export.


16. Discussions by the participants highlighted the need for greater
dialogue between the various government departments and the major
stakeholders. It was pointed out that only the government could
alter the legislation and on this point the respective government
departments need to be vigorously lobbied by the major stakeholders
to act in the interests of South Africa's trading importers and
It was agreed that as more and more countries started growing GM
crops and as the global area under cultivation increased, the
chances of commingling increased. In the same way the non-GM niche
market would continue to grow. People and businesses that required
Qmarket would continue to grow. People and businesses that required
non-GM products would have to pay a premium.

17. It was felt that whatever policy or guidelines South Africa
decided to adopt should be acceptable to other SADC states as there
was an urgent need for harmonization of policy pertaining to GMOs
within the SADC community. In this regard South Africa should play
a leadership role as the only African country that has had an
extensive experience of GMOs.

18. The audience felt that the recently approved SA Consumer
Protection Bill that required the mandatory labeling of all GM
products needed further discussion and this issue also had a bearing
on the handling of Adventitious Presence. Both subjects should
reflect South Africa's overall stance on GMOs and the risk
associated with their commingling with non-GM products.

19. It was also pointed out that Codex Alimentarius had recently
approved guidelines for the risk assessment of GMOs. As a member of
Codex Alimentarius, South Africa should adopt this as a guideline.

20. While AfricaBio had participated in the debate on the Draft
Consumer Protection Bill, more industry members now need to become

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active and involved. It was suggested that AfricaBio could assist
future efforts by undertaking a project to estimate the expense as
well as the political and trade ramifications of labeling all or a
prescribed list of GM products compared to only labeling products
that did not contain GM products. It was suggested that AfricaBio
might approach NACI for financial support to undertake such a

21. COMMENT: EB-funded programs such as this provide an invaluable
contribution to the GMO debate. These workshops and conferences are
well attended by all sectors of the biotech industry and give the
parties the opportunity to engage in lively and informative debates.
Other organizations that support the development of a progressive
biotech sector in South Africa have significantly reduced funding of
similar activities leading to a paucity of new and timely
information on important subjects related to GMOs. Even though
South Africa is considered a leader in biotechnology on the African
continent, recent issues with labeling and liability need to be
resolved in order for them to maintain that status. These EB funded
activities provide the information and expertise needed to address
these concerns. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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