ANNONCEE A REDUIT : LA LOI REGISSANT LES ORGANISMES GENETIQUEMENT MODIFIES BIENTOT AMENDEE
Lors d’un atelier de travail sur les organismes génétiquement modifiés (OGM) le mercredi 31 mai 2017 au MSIRI, le ministre de l’Agro-industrie et de la Sécurité alimentaire, Mahen Seeruttun a annoncé l’amendement prochain au GMO Act. Il a soutenu qu’un système de bons étiquetages est aussi important avant d’annoncer la création d’un National Biosafety Office en vue de faire respecter les dispositions de cette loi.
Le ministre Seeruttun a fait ressortir que la technologie peut ajouter un ou deux gènes aux 30 000 gènes qui existent dans les plantes et dans les 22 000 qui existent dans les humains. La plante de base ou l’animal reste le même sauf que, ajoute-t-il, grâce à la transformation génétique, on ajoute un nouveau gène qui exprime un caractère spécifique, par exemple, la résistance à la sécheresse ou aux maladies, dans les cas des plantes.
Ci-dessous le discours prononcé par le ministre Seeruttun lors de l’atelier de travail sur les OGM
« I am pleased to be present in your midst this morning for the opening of this very important workshop on the theme ‘Genetic Transformation Technology and the GMO Act 2004: Validation of amendments proposed to the GMO Act 2004’.
I would like, at the very outset, to extend my warmest welcome to Dr Jane Moris for having accepted to assist us during these two days. Dr Moris is a consultant in Life sciences and project manager specializing in bioscience/biotechnology innovation projects with relevance to the developing world. She has extensively been called upon to share her expertise and knowledge in Biotechnology in Africa and today in Mauritius. She is an editor of a book to be soon published by Cambridge University Press entitled ‘Genetically Modified Organisms in Developing Countries: Regulation and Governance’.
It is unfortunate that only a few Sections of the GMO Act 2004 have been proclaimed so far. For the implementation of the Act, there was a need for a series of regulations to be drafted as well as facilities to be put in place such as a Biosafety Office to deal with the administrative matters pertaining to Biosafety and for the enforcement of the law. In addition, a GMO testing laboratory was also required.
In the last decade, a lot of changes have occurred worldwide with regard to regulations of GMOs, our GMO Act dates back to 2004, there was a need to align it with new developments.
My Ministry has already initiated actions to review the GMO Act 2004. I understand that a revised draft of the GMO Act is already available and amendments proposed will be validated.
This year, necessary steps will be taken for the GMO Act to be fully proclaimed for it to play its regulatory functions. Provision will be also be made for the setting of the National Biosafety Office and to cater for the enforcement of the law.
The National Biosafety Committee has also been preparing a series of regulations and technical guidelines to support the implementation of this law.
Today with the progress made in science, gene manipulation and gene transfer from one organism to another is a reality. However, we should not forget that genes manipulation by human beings is not new, but the way of doing it has changed.
Most modern crops are indistinguishable from their wild ancestors some 7000 years ago, as they have been improved through selective breeding, making them appealing to growers and consumers who are in constantly looking for better varieties with specific traits for disease resistance, improved yield and quality.
It is inconceivable today to think of a world without biotechnology, a world of omics: genomics (looking at DNA), transcriptomics (looking at gene expression), proteomics (analysis of proteins) and metabolomics (analysis of metabolic contents of cells) and also genetic transformation technology, that allows gene transfer from one organism to another, that gives rise to genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
GM technology was first developed in the early 1970’s and the first commercialised pharmaceutical application was insulin in the 1980’s. Thereafter, in the 1990’s the technology made its way for agricultural applications. The GM technology has been here now for more than four decades, but there is still much resistance towards it worldwide.
As you may be aware genetic engineering can add one or two genes to some existing 30 000 genes in plants or 22 000 genes in humans. The basic plant or animal remains the same, but genetic transformation merely adds a new gene to express a specific trait, say drought resistance or disease resistance in the case of plants. A very simple analogy is the addition of an app to your Smartphone!
GMOs are governed by strict regulations in some countries as in Europe where authorization is on a case to case basis, while in the US or Canada ‘substantial equivalence’ is the starting point when assessing for GMOs’ safety.
One of the key issues concerning genetically modified products is labeling so as to give a choice to consumers. Labeling of GMO products in the form of mandatory or up to a threshold, is required, in some 64 countries.
Major crops like maize, soybean, cotton, canola and sugar beet have been genetically transformed for herbicide and insect tolerance and have had a fast adoption in the USA. GM crops have surged to a peak of 185.1 million hectares in 2016. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) 2017 report states, I quote: ‘Adoption of Biotech or GM crops have conserved biodiversity by removing 19.4 million hectares of land from agriculture in 2015; and decreased the environmental impact with a 19% reduction in herbicide and insecticide use’. End of Quote
Additionally planting biotech crops has helped to alleviate hunger by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families. Moreover, the report states that ‘ Biotechnology is one of the tools necessary in helping farmers grow more food on less land’.
Today, the top ten countries growing at least one million hectares of GM crops each are: USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, and Uruguay.
In Africa, only South Africa figured in the top ten countries and it was the first country in Africa to commercially cultivate GM crops. It is today the leading developing country growing GM crops. GM maize, and cotton have been planted in South Africa since 1997. In 2015, nearly 2.3 million hectares were under GM crops in South Africa, with maize grown on 1.8 million hectares and representing nearly 90% of the total area under this crop; for soybean, out of 535 000 hectares cultivated, 508 000 were GM and as for cotton 100% of the 12 000 hectares were GM.
Recently, other African countries namely, Burkina Faso and Sudan have been exploiting GM cotton and these two countries, in 2015, accounted for 0.22 % of the total global acreage under GM crops.
Besides the cultivation of major GM crops such as maize, soybean and cotton, other crops including rice, wheat, sorghum, cassava and sweet potato have been genetically modified and field trials are underway in several African countries including Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda.
For the development of biotech crops, well regulated systems for genetically modified plants should be in place so that no harm is caused to human, animal and the environment. In Africa, the governance of biotech crops is characterized by a precautionary approach. The majority of African countries are parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international agreement on biosafety that entered into force in 2003. Mauritius was the first country in the world to sign the convention in 1992.
With the development of biotech crops in Africa, and the increased trade in the region, it is important that imports and exports take place within well-regulated framework so that no harm is caused to human, animal and the environment.
This is reason why we are here today.
The Government of Mauritius is paving the way for the next stage of our economic development and innovation is a key element. My Ministry is committed to the full enactment of the GMO Act, after necessary frameworks are put in place.
Before I conclude, I would like to thank the US Embassy in Mauritius for its support in the organisation of the workshop and Dr Morris for having kindly accepted to assist us.
With these words, I declare the workshop open and I wish all participants a very fruitful deliberation I shall look forward to be briefed on the outcome.”