Impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms on the Environment

Who we are and what we do?

The Genetically Modified Organisms' (GMOs) programme, under the Biodiversity Pressures and Response Directorate, conducts impact based monitoring and research on the environmental impacts of GMOs in South Africa. Our framework focuses on landscape level changes, species level (Non-Target Organisms (NTOs) & target organisms), gene flow and other ecological impacts.

We directly fulfill SANBI's mandate, 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".

What are the services and outputs we provide?

  • Undertake case specific monitoring 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 and prodive guidlines on industry based monitoring protocols aligned to their release permits.
  • Build capacity, were necessary, for GMO monitoring and research among South African scientists and students.
  • Create collaborative research opportunities between South African scientists and institutions, locally and internationally. 

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). Reseach 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 soilorganism biodiversity, as well as the impact of gene flow and its subsequent contribution to the development of insect resistance.

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 Benefi ts Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity

The importance of the GMO programme

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 the environment. SANBI has been mandated to develop a monitoring programme suited to a South African environment and farming culture. One such way is to utilise structured risk analysis tools and stakeholder involvement to determine the most relevant biodiversity monitoring endpoints. In addition, SANBI is conducting South African-specific research on GMOs and their potential impacts on the environment. This information will address knowledge gaps and contribute to building capacity related to biodiversity, GMOs and biosafety.

Contact Details

The GMO Monitoring and Research programme is based at SANBI's Kirstenbosch Research Centre, Cape Town.

For more details contact:  Tlou Masehela

Last updated on 09 May 2016
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