Prof Thomson, a world-renowned scientist, is Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town. She is past Head of the Department of Microbiology (1988-2000) and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Science (1996-1998). She has held posts up to Associate Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, was Visiting Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1982-1983), and Director of the Laboratory for Molecular and Cell Biology of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa (1984-1987). She was a Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University USA (1974-1977).

Prof Thomson received the L'Oreal/United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Award as the most outstanding woman scientist in Africa 2004 for her work in genetic engineering.

She was a member of the SAGENE committee that set up the guidelines for GMO use in this country, prior to the GMO Act being passed by parliament. She was also a member of the drafting committee that wrote the strategy document on biotechnology that was approved by the South African cabinet.

Mr Chairperson

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is often said scientists are reluctant to condemn GMOs because they are dependent on grants from the GMO industry. I totally reject this.

Let me from the outset make it very clear, I am an independent scientist. I have never received a grant or financial support from any GMO company or the GMO industry.

The views that I express concerning GMOs are based on independent scientifically peer proven research done by independent scientists approving GMOs to show that food from GM crops is healthy for human consumption and that GM crops will not contaminate the environment.

Draught tolerant maize will be a great boon to maize production in Africa. Thanks to the science of biotechnology.

Plant breeders rights allow breeders to collect royalties on new varieties, which encourages breeders to invest the 12 to 25 years needed to bring out improved varieties such as maize and wheat. Royalties and licence fees must be affordable, if inventors want to encourage use of the invention within the short period they have to recover the costs of development. Thus, IPR are designed both to enable access to new products and to encourage new inventions.

Researchers at the University of Guelph, Canada, are working on genetically modified lucerne to produce a vaccine for cattle suffering from respiratory disease.

These are just a few examples that will help to reduce medicine costs by millions of rands and which involve crops that farmers can produce on their farms.

This will be of great support to the Minister of Health, Manto Tshabala Msimang, in her endeavour to provide cheaper medicine for the masses


I am a member of a group of scientists at the University of Cape Town who are using genes from a resurrection plant indigenous to South Africa to confer drought tolerance to maize. These plants can lose 95% of their water content and live in this desiccated state for months on end. They can, however, resurrect" within three days after watering.

In its natural habitat, such as the Cathedral Peak Nature Reserve where our plants are collected, they grow in rocky crevices where there are minimal nutrients and soil available. The shallow soil causes the plants to dry out very rapidly during adverse environmental conditions. In addition, these plants generally occur at high altitudes where they are exposed to excessive light, and high temperatures (up to 420C) during the day and low temperatures (below 00C) at night. Therefore, within a 24-hour period, they are exposed to extremes of environmental conditions, and yet are capable of coping with the varied conditions very well.

The UCT group has developed a number of strategies to isolate genes that are functionally important in drought stress. Using these strategies we have isolated some 60 genes that could potentially be used to improve drought tolerance in crop plants.


Future development of GMOs offers unlimited scope for agricultural growth and vast new applications in the field of medicine.

The growing of GM crops for medicinal purposes, known as pharming, to develop a plant-derived vaccine against infectious diseases as an alternative to injections, at a fraction of the cost and in greater volumes than is now possible, is receiving the support of scientific and medical institutions world-wide.

The pharming technology will not only boost farmers' incomes but will bring relief to millions of disease sufferers in the developing world A cholera vaccine, produced in a plant, can be given to a child at a cost of 80 cents, compared to normal treatment costing nearly R500.

Germany's Institut fur Planzengenetik is developing a vaccine from transenic tobacco and potato plants against cervical cancer, the third most common cancer in women.

In the USA scientists are doing research on a transgenic tomato to aid the prevention of cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer. Research is also in an advanced stage for producing vaccines from genetically modified crops to treat sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/Aids.

Vaccines from GM crops acting as "pharmaceutical factories" are not only being developed to curb human diseases but also diseases threatening cattle.

The Indian Institute of Science is doing research on tobacco plants to produce a vaccine against rinderpest-an acute, highly contagious disease amongst cattle.

According to reliable research done by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), with headquarters in Manila, Philippines, the use of GM crops grew 40-fold in the first eight years after their release.

The global area increased from 1,7 million ha in 1996 to 68 million ha grown by seven million farmers in 18 countries on all six continents in 2003. A conservative forecast indicates that in five years time this area will exceed 100 million ha, involving some 10 million farmers in 25 countries.

Of the seven million farmers growing GM crops in 2003, more than 85% (5,9 million) were resource poor. Farmers in China, India, South East Asia, Latin America and Africa are officially growing GM crops at a faster rate than farmers in the developed world.

This is an absolute repudiation of another claim by the anti-GM lobbyists that the GM technology has no benefit for small-scale farmers in the developing world.

Farmers are not stupid. If the food they produce poses any health risks to their consumers or the environment, their crops will have no market and they will go out of business. In the USA, the largest producer of GM crops, 280 million people have been eating GM food every day for the past nine years, with no ill-effects.

South African farmers, emergent and commercial, have this season planted more than 400 000 ha of GM crops. We have been eating GM food for the past six years without anybody having developed as much as a tummy-ache. The forecast is that in five years time 2,5 million ha of our 3 million ha maize will be GM crops.

There is a very large consensus in the scientific community that GMO food is a safe method to improve our food production. Seven national academies of science have endorsed this approach and 16 Nobel laureates along with 3200 scientists support this view," says Prakash.


Even the Vatican has come out in strong support of GMOs. At a Catholic Bishops GM Conference in Rome, Bishop EIo Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said: "There are no impediments to animal and vegetable bio-technologies. They are for the good of man."

Bishop Jesus Y Ia Vare, of the Diocese of Sorsgon, emphasised the importance of the role of bio-technologies in developing countries. He said: "There is no human activity that does not present risks, and GMOs are certainly not more risky than the foods we already consume.


A joint report from two United Nations agencies, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), says: "Biotechnology provides new and powerful tools for research and for accelerating the development of new and better foods."

The director general of WHO, Harlem Bruntland, reaffirmed that "there was no scientifically documented case of negative health effects anywhere in the world".

Despite the anti-GM lobby, adoption by farmers and consumers around the world of GM crops and food is accelerating at an unprecedented rate never before recorded in the history of agricultural development.

The British Medical Association (BMA) reports that: "There is very little potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects. Many of the concerns expressed apply with equal vigour to conventionally derived foods."

"We do not doubt that genetically modified foods have enormous potential to benefit both the developing and developed world in the long term."


The European Union Commission conducted 81 scientific research projects on GMO's over a period of 15 years, which cost R640 million financed by the EU, and came to the conclusion that "GM food is both safe for humans and the environment."


France's Academy of Science concurred, saying: "There is no evidence to date showing that GMOs pose a potential health or environmental risk."

The French Academy of Medicine concluded in their research: "There is no evidence that GM crops pose risks to humans as no particular health problem has been detected."


The eminent American Scientist, Prof CS Prakash, from the Tuskegee University, concluded after years of research that: "GMO food is safer than water. GMO food is less dangerous than stairs, bicycles or medicine. More than two billion people have eaten genetically modified food in the past five years without becoming ill.

The anti-GM lobbyists make unsubstantiated claims, just to mention three issues, that GM food:

Is unsafe for human consumption.

Poses a serious health risk.

Will endanger biodiversity and contaminate the environment.

There are many more such wild claims.

Ironically, none of these claims raised by the anti-GM lobbyists has ever received the backing of any of the world's scientific and medical academies, agriculture faculties, or agricultural research institutions.

There is no scientific evidence whatsoever, available anywhere in the world, to prove that GM food poses a health risk to man or beast, or that it could contaminate the environment.

No agricultural crop technology in the history of the world has been subjected to such stringent scientific and medical tests as GMO's. It has passed these tests with flying colours.

Independent research by some of the world's most respected scientists, scientific and medical academies reported as follows:


"There is no consensus as to the seriousness, or even existence, of any potential harm from GM technology. It should be used to increase the production of main staple foods and reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. Biotech crops may even be safer than regular food." This report was endorsed by the following six academies of science: Brazil, China, India, Mexico, the Third World Academy, and the National Academy of Science of the US. Drought tolerant maize will be a great boon to maize production in Africa. Thanks to the science of biotechnology.

Plant breeders rights allow breeders to collect royalties on new varieties. which encourages breeders to invest the 12 to 25 years needed to needed to bring out improved varieties such as maize and wheat. Royalties and licence fees must be affordable, if investors want to encourage use of the invention within the short period they have to recover the costs of development. Thus, IPR are designed both to enable the access to new products and to encourage new inventions.