ASSAf Programmes

ASSAf established a Standing Committee on Biosafety and Biosecurity in 2009 to raise awareness of biorisks and promote the conduct of safe science.

Biotechnology is a strong focus in South Africa. It was given impetus with the publication of the National Biotechnology Strategy in 2001, which was aimed at initiating the development of biotechnologies to build and strengthen the innovation system.

ASSAf established a Standing Committee on Biosafety and Biosecurity in 2009 to raise awareness of biorisks and promote the conduct of safe science. The chairperson of the committee is Prof Iqbal Parker and the committee members are:

  • Dr Chandré Gould, 
    Institute for Security Studies (ISS)
  • Dr Rachel Chikwamba, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
  • Prof Anton van Niekerk, Stellenbosch University 
  • Prof Daniel du Toit, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT)

Regulatory Implications of New Genetic Engineering Technologies

ASSAf has recently embarked on a consensus study on Regulatory Implications of New Genetic Engineering Technologies. The study panel, under the chairmanship of Dr Hennie Groenewald of BiosafetySA held its first meeting in Pretoria in May 2015.

Other panel members are:

  • Prof Gustav Bouwer, University of Witwatersrand (Wits)
  • Dr Kingston Mashingaidze, Agricultural Research Council (ARC)
  • Dr Jasper Rees, Agricultural Research Council (ARC)
  • Prof Iqbal Parker, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB)
  • Dr Eugenia Barros, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
  • Dr James Southern (retired)

The aim of the study is to interrogate the biosafety implications of new genetic engineering technologies, their fit with the existing GMO Act (1997), and the robustness of the current biosafety regulations to accommodate the new technologies and where appropriate to recommend changes to existing regulations.

A workshop on the regulatory implications of new breeding techniques (NBTs) and their relevance to the South African biotechnology sector was held in Pretoria on 20 June 2017.
Presentations at workshop:
Regulatory implications of NBTs
SANSOR reaction
AfricaBio reaction
OECD reaction

The State of Biosafety and Biosecurity in South Africa

One of the first activities of the committee was to initiate a consensus study on The State of Biosafety and Biosecurity in South Africa. The consensus study panel is chaired by Prof Jill Farrant and has the following members:

  • Prof Iqbal Parker, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB)
  • Dr Chandré Gould, Institute for Security Studies (ISS)
  • Prof Anton van Niekerk, Stellenbosch University
  • Prof Daniel du Toit, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT)
  • Dr Shadrack Moephuli, Agricultural Research Council (ARC)
  • Dr Nhlanhla Msomi, Consultant
  • Dr James Southern, Consultant
  • Dr Petrus Janse van Vuuren, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, NICD
  • Dr Delille Wessels, Agricultural Research Council (ARC)

Objectives of the study include, amongst others:

  • A critical overview of the implementation of biosafety and biosecurity measures in laboratories in South Africa.
  • An assessment of relevant legislation and regulation in relation to biosafety and biosecurity and to identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in laws and in implementation.
  • An evaluation of existing measures and capacity to detect, identify and prevent the natural, accidental or deliberate spread of infectious agents.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Agricultural biotechnology, specifically genetic modification (GM) technology, has the potential to contribute to poverty reduction and food security on the African continent. South Africa has a GMOs Act and is one of only three African countries that cultivates GM crops commercially.

ASSAf has engaged in a number of activities related to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The first was a workshop, with strong African participation, held in September 2009, which led to a proceedings report entitled “GMOs for African Agriculture: Opportunities and Challenges” (Part 1 and Part 2). There was a strong African presence at the workshop, with participants from seven African countries (South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Mauritius), as well as a representative of the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities.

A subsequent publication, a policymakers’ booklet entitled “Regulation of Agricultural Technology in Africa” and published in October 2012, aimed to provide guidance on evidence-based decision-making on the development, introduction, commercialisation and use of agricultural GMOs. The precursor to the publication was a joint workshop held in collaboration with the Mauritius Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) in June 2011. The workshop was attended by participants from across Africa. Topics discussed included factors that are contributing to the slow rate of commercialising GMOs in Africa, with suggestions being made for institutional capacity building to improve regulatory systems.

The main messages of the report were presented at the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) Annual International Conference in Addis Ababa in November 2012, which had broad African participation. The key message was that GM technology can contribute towards alleviating food shortages in Africa, provided it is carried out within a framework of appropriate biotechnology policy.

The policymakers’ booklet was subsequently launched and localised in Kenya, at an event jointly organised by the Kenya National Academy of Sciences and ASSAf in April 2013.