Namibian GMO food labeling regulations will affect trade with South Africa

Published: 09/11/2018

New Namibian GMO Food Labeling Regulations will affect all future grain exports to Namibia. This was according to the CEO of the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) and GM of Innovation, Technology and Development in Namibia who recently addressed grain value chain role players on the impact of the new legislation and the GMO list that was compiled for maize, soybean, canola, wheat, cotton and rice. The Biosafety Act 2006 of Namibia provides measures to regulate the activities that involve research, development, production, marketing, transportation, applications and other uses of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as well as specific products derived from these GMOs as they are harnessed safely.

Namibia is in the process of ensuring that its biosafety regulations conform to international standards. Namibian market regulations, which include food safety assessment, transportation requirements and labeling requirements, are now in place. 

 According to NCRST, border control will sample and test grain consignments entering Namibia to cross-check events in the consignment with that on the list. To this end, Namibia launched a national genetically modified organism (GMO) testing, training and research laboratory on 29 January 2018.

Permits will be required by the in-country counterpart for contained use facility; contained use permit; field trials; and environmental release/field planting. This process should take less than 90 days. Permits will not be on a consignment basis but per year. Applications by the Namibian counterpart (importer/processor/distributor) should be accompanied by an emergency response plan and will cost N$ 1 000. Read more at under the Biosafety Clearing-House.

The Namibian GMO product list has been approved by Cabinet and was published in the Gazette under the Namibian Biosafety Act and Regulation. This list identifies all possible GMOs that may enter the Namibian market. A permit must be issued for those GMOs that are likely to enter the market. Only GMO products on the list need to be approved. The GM product list was published on 9 October 2018 and is intended to cover ANY product that may potentially enter the Namibian market. It serves as the list for application as well as monitoring and policing. This has huge trade implication for South African companies who trade with Namibia in grain (maize, canola, soybean, wheat) as well as cotton, rice, sugarcane and potato.

AfricaBio, an independent, non-profit biotechnology stakeholder association that promotes a safe, ethical and responsible approach to biotechnology and its products in South Africa and the African region, has had a number of engagements with the NCRST Officials to seek clarity of the requirements Biosafety Regulations.

Recently AfricaBio held a meeting to update grain value chain role players on aspects of the Namibian Biosafety regulations which may affect trade:

The Namibian Biosafety Regulation does not address the definition of GMO products and they remain to be defined by the Minister by notice in the Gazette

  • The Namibian Biosafety Regulation does not address the definition of GMO products and they remain to be defined by the Minister by notice in the Gazette.
  • Only locally registered (i.e. Namibian) companies may apply for placing GM product on the Namibian Market. No applicant may apply to place on the Namibian market GM products that are not on the approved product list.
  • Any person who carries on any activity with or in relation to a GMO or GMO product for which a permit is required by the Biosafety Act must, if wishing to continue with that activity, apply for a permit within 120 days (Deadline 6 February 2019) after publishing of the Government Gazette.

Permit application: Placing on the market

  • An application for a placing on the market permit must be submitted to the Registrar on form NCRST/BSF/001.
  • The application form must be accompanied by the following:
  • Application fee of N$1 000.00;
  • Emergency response plan (regulation 50) (unless exempted);
  • Risk assessment and the risk management plan, where applicable;
  • Copy of the advertisement as set out in regulation 7 of the Biosafety Regulations (Government Notice No. 210).

Special GM feed/food labeling requirements

Namibia GM food and feed labeling threshold is 0.9 percent (5 % for RSA). All registered companies based in Namibia who deal with GM products must ensure that the genetically modified food or feed is labelled as per the three (3) categories stipulated in the regulation. The three (3) GM food and feed labeling categories are as follows:

  • In the case of a separately or individually packaged raw agricultural commodity, that the permit holder labels the commodity, when offered for sale, in such packaging, with the visible and legible words stating "genetically modified" or "contains genetically modified ingredients";
  • Raw agricultural commodity which is not separately or individually packaged, that the permit holder posts a label appearing on the retail store shelf or container on or in which the commodity is displayed for sale with the visible and legible words stating "genetically modified" or "produced through genetic modification"; or
  • Processed genetically modified food or feed: the package is labelled with the words "partially produced through genetic modification""may have been produced through genetic modification" or "produced through genetic modification"

Way forward and proposal

Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) updated the meeting about the South Africa GMO labeling regulations which are currently in force. However, the implementation of the CPA regulations on GM food and feed labeling remains a challenge - due to a number of reasons. The dti has indicated that internal discussion will take place between its Consumer and Corporate Regulation Division (CCRD) and the International Trade Economic Division (ITED) responsible for International Trade and plans to consult with other relevant government departments (DAFF, DEA and DoH and DST). It is revising the regulations but the Minister is yet to approve the amended regulations. The dti is aware of the Namibia regulation and plans escalate the matter to the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC) and ultimately the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

Despite the request for support in the form of a government-to-government diplomatic channel to resolve the matter, industry role players have been asked for written submissions outlining the key issues and proposed solutions.