Who we are and what we do?
The Genetically Modified Organisms’ (GMO) Assessment Unit, under the Directorate for Biodiversity Assessment, is responsible for monitoring and research on the biodiversity impacts of GMO in South Africa. We directly fulfil SANBI’s mandate on GMO, which states: (we) “must monitor and report regularly to the Minister on the environmental impacts of all categories of genetically modified organisms, post commercial release, based on research that identifies and evaluates risk”.
The importance of the GMO Assessment Unit
Genetically modified crops are being cultivated around the world, including South Africa. South Africa adopted GM crops in 1997, and currently produces GM maize, soybean and cotton. However, stringent biosafety regulatory systems and monitoring are necessary to ensure that the technology is utilized in a manner that minimizes disruptions to the environment whilst contributing to the country’s sustainable development goals and imperatives.
As a result, post-market monitoring of GMOs is necessary to detect and prevent adverse effects on biodiversity and the environment. SANBI has been mandated to undertake monitoring and research suited to a South African environment in line with the various Biosafety Regulations and Frameworks.
One such way is to utilise structured risk analysis tools and stakeholder involvement to determine the most relevant biodiversity monitoring approaches. This information will address knowledge gaps, contribute to building capacity, strengthen biosafety protocols and legislation relevant to GMOs related to their potential impacts on South Africa’s biodiversity.
Our work and focus areas:
- Undertake a national assessment on the impacts on biodiversity from GMOs released into the environment in South Africa
- Undertake case specific monitoring and research based on recommendations from the pre-market risk assessment.
- Undertake focused research and provide scientific analysis and synthesis of information that will contribute to the development of a scientifically sound monitoring programme for the impacts of GMOs on biodiversity.
- Review, provide guidance and support on industry based monitoring protocols aligned to their general release permit conditions.
- Build capacity for GMO monitoring and research among South African scientists and students.
- Create collaborative research opportunities between South African scientists and institutions, locally and internationally.
- Support and provide scientific support to the various government departments in their national and international engagements in the subject area.
Highlights of past outputs:
The report on Monitoring the environmental impacts of GM maize in South Africa incorporates the outcomes of the South Africa-Norway Biosafety Cooperation Project (2008-2010). Research was conducted on a framework based upon a series of scientific studies undertaken by researchers in South Africa and Norway, including field, glasshouse and laboratory assessments.
The areas investigated ranged from impact on target and non-target organisms, impact on soil organism biodiversity, as well as the impact of gene flow and its subsequent contribution to the development of insect resistance.
The first national assessment, titled ‘An initial assessment of impacts on biodiversity from GMOs released into the environment in South Africa 2021’, is being released in 2022.
Other products produced through projects:
- Diversity of non-crop plants and arthropods in soybean agro-ecosystems in South Africa
- Weed profiling fields of herbicide tolerant maize in the Mthatha region, Eastern Cape Province
Useful legislation and protocols relating to GMOs
- GMO Act No 15 of 1997
- NEMBA Act No 10 of 2004
- Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity
- Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The GMO Assessment Unit is based at Kirstenbosch Research Centre, Cape Town.