The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD) recently decided that new breeding technologies (NBTs) will be evaluated under risk assessment framework of the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Act. Dr Magdeleen Cilliers, policy and research officer at the South African National Seed Organisation (SANSOR), joins us on this week’s episode to explain why this is detrimental to the agricultural sector.
SANSOR, along with Agbiz and CropLife South Africa, have lodged an appeal against the decision, citing it as a risk to food security and technological innovation. Cilliers explains that GMOs and NBTs are not the same, and should thus not be evaluated under the framework.
She defines GMOs as organisms that have external DNA added to them. “[An] example of a genetically modified organism is maize that has been genetically modified to be more resistant to maize stem borers.”
NBTs on the other hand, are a range of new techniques in the genetics field that are used to make a range of different products. Cilliers says that these products are often created by using old techniques that have been around for a long time.
“Some of these products can be genetically modified organisms with external DNA inserted into them. Or there can be products similar to the conventional products that were [created] with conventional breeding over a few years’ time. It’s a range of techniques and not only just the organisms.”
Consequences must be taken into account
NBTs that were created with external DNA should be evaluated under the GMO Act, says Cilliers, but not products created using conventional breeding methods. She explains that this could have many negative consequences and that it would be difficult to regulate.
“The products that are similar to conventional breeding – products that could actually occur in nature over many, many years and have the same changes as normal – should not be regulated in the GMO act.”
The new policy are particularly threatening to innovation in the agricultural sector, says Cilliers. She explains that, to keep consumers safe, GMOs are regulated quite strictly. These regulations come with a high cost for those who want to enter GMOs into the market.
“For products that are technically not GMOs because they do not have external DNA inside, it is not probable for a small South African innovator or small South African seed company to go and take on these extreme costs to get a product on market through the GMO act and regulations.”
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