Environmental lobbyists have raised concerns about the environmental and health effects of genetically modified organisms, while government is in the process of reviewing its legislation on these organisms.
The Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Company, which is based in Memphis, Tennessee, has applied to the agriculture department for permission to plant cotton containing three modified genes; two of them confer resistance to insects, and one makes the cotton resistant to herbicide.
According to Monsanto's biotechnology regulatory manager for Africa, Wally Green, two sites are planned, one 40km west of Musina in Limpopo and one near Groblersdaal.
Green said that the two sites would be used as a winter nursery, producing seeds for Stoneville during the US off-season, and all the seeds would be sent back to the US.
However, Green said the company had complied with the requirements of the Genetically Modified Organisms Act, which stipulated that notices had to be placed in three newspapers circulating in the region in which modified crops were to be planted 30 days before an application was submitted to the department. He said that notices had been placed in six newspapers, including Beeld.
Glenn Ashton, interim co-ordinator for lobby group Safeage, which is campaigning for a fiveyear ban on genetically modified organisms, said he was concerned that Stone ville planned to introduce a variety of cotton in SA containing an untested combination of modified genes.
"We haven't found information on the (use of this cotton) anywhere else in the world," said Ashton.
Green said that the triple-gene cotton had in effect been approved by the regulatory authorities in the US. He said this type of cotton was produced by crossing Bollgard II cotton, which contained two insect-resistant genes (Cry 1 Ac and Cry 2 Ab), with Roundup Ready cotton, which contained a gene conferring resistance to Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide.
Both Bollgard II and Roundup Ready cotton had received full US regulatory clearance, said Green. He also said that cross-breeding did not require specific approval in the US.
Ashton said that Safeage planned to oppose the application to plant the triple-gene cotton, but it was concerned that it did not have sufficient scientific information to build up a case.
"Given the flawed regulatory regime in SA, this application should be refused out of hand. We cannot afford to further subsidise the interests of this industry at potentially incalculable cost.
"We insist that a conservative and precautionary approach be taken, rather than the present cavalier and opaque system that facilitates the introduction of these novel and untested crops."
May 29, 2003