A synthesis of a recently submitted Masters dissertation by Jen Whittingham.

The inspiration for this title came from two very stimulating yet contrasting interviews that took place during the research. The language demonstrates the emotive dimensions of the topic and the divergent perspectives that exist across the GMO landscape in South Africa.

The risk assessment of genetically modified (GM) crops has been assumed to be a benign regulatory tool, due to its perceived objectivity and freedom from the morals and values that pervade society. Yet, against the backdrop of growing environmental pressures, social tensions and political instability, problems that cannot be accommodated in the current regulatory framework in South Africa are consistently emerging. This heightened and volatile situation [DELETE thus] calls for a reformation of regulatory procedures that may account for problems neglected by the current science-based risk approach to the assessment of GM crops. To achieve this, the research methodologies adopted a feminist-pragmatist approach that allowed for the use of mixed methods and emphasised researcher reflexivity to give space for new perspectives to develop. The research aimed to (1) study current risk assessment procedures for GM crops and their historical evolution; (2) address concerns that have arisen from this approach; and (3) investigate the suitability of a Feminist Ethics of Care as an alternative lens through which to view the assessment of GM crops in South Africa.

Using themes derived from feminist literature such as relationships, particularity and context, power and vulnerability, narrative and voice, emotions and new conceptualisations of the public/private dichotomy, new ‘ways of seeing’ risk emerged and illuminated salient issues that are so often neglected by the current regulatory approach. An articulation of this alternative was explored in order to provide critical and practical policy recommendations. The thesis concluded by expressing the limitations of a Feminist Ethics of Care in the context of South Africa and revealed how a post-development paradigm may help to formulate a more appropriate framework for GM crop assessment.

A journal article inspired by this research is currently under preparation. A policy brief is also in the pipeline.

Photo: Mama Mamrhasi from Hobeni Village, South Africa, displays wild spinach (known as ‘imifino’ in Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa) that she has collected from her home garden. Credit: Katie Tavenner. With thanks to Bioversity International  https://www.bioversityinternational.org/news/detail/boosting-the-conservation-of-crop-wild-relatives-in-southern-africa/