South Africa stands to hugely benefit from genome editing and other modern
Biotechnologies when products thereof are developed and used within a
framework that ensures their sustainability. This was an affirmation coming
out from the second National Biosafety Symposium, organized by Biosafety
South Africa in Pretoria on March 14, 2019.
Addressing ethical, legal and social implications of human genetics research
and innovation, Prof. Michael Pepper from University of Pretoria called for
inclusion of practical interventions in genome editing in the country.
Echoing recommendations from a recent study commissioned by the country's
Academy of Science, he recommended that biotech innovations should be
incorporated in school curricula to improve public understanding. He also
asked for refining of consent models for patients to ensure responsible use
of genetic technologies.
At the Symposium, South Africa's Department of Health's Food Control Unit
revealed their new findings that residue levels of GMO-associated herbicides
in maize products are mostly undetectable and even when detectable, they are
more than two orders of magnitude below the national maximum allowable
The participants also discussed and acknowledged the regulatory and
acceptance challenges faced by entrepreneurs involved with genome editing
and other modern biotechnology tools. Leah Bessa, co-founder of the start-up
biotech company Gourmet Grubb, which is developing insect-based foods,
appealed to regulators to develop formal consultation opportunities for
start-up companies. The Symposium was concerned that inadequate technical
and financial support are among factors that can derail progress in the
region. The stakeholders called for a policy environment conducive to
sustainable innovation and observed that a multi-disciplinary approach to
biotech innovation is critical to ensure success and sustainable growth in
the country's biotech sector.