FOCUS ON AFRICA
'International GM pressure group GM Watch, together with other groups such as Biowatch and the African Centre for Biosafety, view the GMO Act as deeply flawed. "Shoddy research was done in the drafting, while the experts involved were not independent," said Mariam Mayet, the director of the African Centre for Biosafety.'
'Conflict of interest' in GMO advisory panel
Mail & Guardian, 23 July 2004
Pressure groups opposed to genetically modified (GM) organisms say some of the experts advising the government on permits for GM products are guilty of conflicting interests.
Particular concern is focused on a state official, Muffy Koch, who advises the government on whether to grant permits to companies to test genetically modified organisms (GMOs), while consulting for the companies during the subsequent trials.
Koch serves on a sub-committee of the advisory committee in the Department of Agriculture that evaluates applications for permits to release GM food crops into the environment for the purposes of field trials. Her committee prepares a recommendation to be reviewed by an executive council, comprising representatives from various government departments.
Koch's company, Golden Genomics, is consulting on biosafety standards in field trials of potatoes that are genetically modified to resist attack by tuber moth.
She is also a member of the pro-GM "stakeholder group", AfricaBio, and helped draft South Africa's GMO Act.
International GM pressure group GM Watch, together with other groups such as Biowatch and the African Centre for Biosafety, view the GMO Act as deeply flawed. "Shoddy research was done in the drafting, while the experts involved were not independent," said Mariam Mayet, the director of the African Centre for Biosafety.
Jonathan Matthews, co-founder of GM Watch, said many South African advisers were too close to the GM industry to rule objectively on trials. Other interest groups such as Biowatch have raised the same concerns.
"Koch's career raises important questions about where the lines are drawn between regulation, lobbying and private companies," Matthews said.
He complained that owing to its lax biosafety controls South Africa's intake of GM crops was more rapid than that of any country besides the United States.
"The fact that our biosafety controls readily allow GM imports and GM crop releases into the environment is no accident," he said. "It is the result of its having been shaped from an early stage by influential proponents of GM like Koch."
This week Koch said that her role as a consultant to GM trials and adviser to the government in permit decisions did not involve conflicting interests.
"I do consult on GM trials, but there are only so many expert scientists on GM available in South Africa. That is why I am on the government's advisory list as well," she said. "But I would never advise on a GM product that I was consulted on, or vice versa."
She also said AfricaBio did not dictate her views.
'Conflict of interest' exposed in GMO advisory panel
FOCUS ON AFRICA