GMO Series part 3: Regulatory perspective

The fragmented regulatory system in South Africa may result in confusion about the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs); it’s not clear when products need to be tested for – or, in fact, labelled to indicate – the presence or absence of a GMO.

Besides understanding consumer perceptions, it’s vital you understand the legal implications of using genetically modified foodstuffs in your manufacturing process. Not only is this required should you wish to make claims; it’s also important when you’re sourcing your raw materials.

Which regulations must be considered?

The regulations relating to GMO in South Africa currently include:

  1. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 2008 (Act No. 68 of 2008) Regulations (R.293 of 2011), Product labelling and trade descriptions: genetically modified organisms;
  2. Regulations Governing the Labelling of Foodstuffs Obtained Through Certain Techniques of Genetic Modification (R.25 of 2004) under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants (FCD) Act, 1972 (Act No. 54 of 1972).

Which commodities are approved for sale as genetically modified foods in SA?

Under Regulation 7 of the CPA, only maize, soya, cotton and canola are approved for commercialisation by the Council for Genetically Modified Organisms. This means that the commercialisation of other GM crops for use and sale to be consumed by humans or animals in SA is prohibited.

Important definitions from the regulations:

These regulations define ‘genetically modified organism’ as: “an organism the genes or genetic material of which has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally through mating or natural recombination or both, and ‘genetic modification’ shall have a corresponding meaning”.

The other definition that is important to consider is ‘significantly different’, which means: “in respect of a foodstuff obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification, that characteristics scientifically assessed through an appropriate analysis of data are different from those of a corresponding existing foodstuff, taking into account accepted limits of natural variation in that foodstuff”.

Labelling of a GMO-containing product:

In the case of a foodstuff containing at least 5% GMOs, the product must be labelled with the statement ‘Contains Genetically Modified Organisms’.

Should a product have less than 5% GMOs, it is voluntary to include the statement ‘Contains <5% GMO’.

The requirement for making the claim ‘Does not contain GMO’ or ‘GMO free’ is that the product must be tested and found to contain <1% GMOs. Careful consideration should be taken when this claim is used in the case of products and commodities which are not approved for GM in SA. It could be misleading to the consumer to see such a claim on a product when in fact any product made from that crop would be GMO free.


If it is scientifically impractical or not feasible to test goods for the presence of GMOs or genetically modified ingredients, the statement ‘May contain genetically modified ingredients’ may be used.

A product that has been modified, such that it becomes ‘significantly different’ in terms of its composition; nutritional value; mode of storage, preparation or cooking; allergenicity; or human or animal origin, shall be labelled in such a way that these differences are apparent to the consumer. The term ‘genetically enhanced foodstuff’ or ‘genetically improved foodstuff’ may be used in cases in which it can be verified and certified that a product has been ‘genetically enhanced’.

Should you be using any of the approved GMOs in the manufacturing of your products, or you want to make a claim regarding GM, always ensure that you have taken full consideration of the regulations before you go to the expense of testing. For regulatory consulting services and assistance, contact us today.