The CSIR filed an appeal in March 2007, as provided for by the GMO Act. The CSIR is one of the key scientific contributors in an international research project to nutritionally enhance grain sorghum. The Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project seeks to develop a more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum that contains increased levels of essential amino acids, especially lysine, increased levels of Vitamins A and E, and more available iron and zinc.
The project brings together seven African and two US organisations. South African organisations include the CSIR, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the University of Pretoria.
CSIR Biosciences Executive Director, Dr Gatsha Mazithulela, welcomed the news: "The application was approved `in view of the potential scientific impact of the project in the long term". The decision is in the best interest of scientific inquiry and provides a basis for making a difference to the neediest people of our continent.
"This process proves that South Africa has robust regulation. We respect the fact that decision-makers have an obligation towards safety and that rigorous investigations are part of the process. Work on the project will now continue in our level 3 biosafety greenhouse," says Mazithulela.
He says the CSIR and its consortium partners support biosafety. They are undertaking additional responsibilities to satisfy the public and the regulators that the work conducted is ethical, conforms to the highest safety levels, and is in the interests of the public. The consortium has already started investigating some fundamental questions in genetics of sorghum as an additional contribution to knowledge in this area. Scientific progress will be documented for scientific review and the organisation will keep the Minister's advisory panel abreast of developments.
Sorghum is an African crop that is the staple food of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. While it is one of the few crops that grow well in arid parts, it is lacking in most essential nutrients and it has poor protein digestibility. Scientific evidence shows that deficiencies in essential micronutrients - such as iron, zinc, Vitamin A and others - can cause impaired immune systems, blindness, low birth weight, impaired neuropsychological development and growth stunting. Malnutrition remains a leading direct and indirect cause of the rise in the many non-communicable diseases, especially in Africa.