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Labelling - The Public Demand for Choice
At the moment it is impossible for South Africans to exercise choice with regard to GE foods due to the fact that there is no labelling, segregation or traceability of the crops that end up in our food. Consumers in South Africa have never been consulted about the introduction of GE food into their diet and cross-pollination between GE crops and those which have not been modified threatens to eliminate the choice altogether. Although the government is examining labelling of GE food, its suggestions fall short of labelling all GE food and present labelling negotiations are stalled.
Stores like Woolworths have adopted voluntary labelling, segregation and reduction of GE ingredients in their products. Other manufacturers have been slow, especially in their public response. Other supermarket chains have been slow to respond to both consumer demands and the issues of liability. Pressure must be put on these chains to at least begin labelling their products.
GE foods have not been tested because they are claimed to be substantially equivalent or pretty much the same as their non-GE relatives. However several crops are rather more substantially different than substantially equivalent. For instance GE soy has been shown to have a notable difference in protein content, phytoestrogen content and many other important criteria. Yet because it is claimed to be substantially equivalent it needs no testing on humans.
An interesting contradiction occurs here; these plants are claimed to be substantially equivalent yet in the same breath they are different, novel and unique enough to patent.
Most GE foodstuffs originate from North America. What little testing process actually occurs, particularly in the USA, is unduly influenced by the powerful biotechnology multinationals, which have little or no accountability. Authorities in South Africa largely rely on these flawed tests and no account is taken of the differences between South Africa's social and natural environments.
So far, SAFeAGE has collected representation from more than 4.6 million consumers mandating it to approach retailers and other food producers asking them (a) to labell GM Products that contain more than 0.9% GM, and (b) to segregate GM from non-GM products in store. (1 June 2007)
For information on labelling requirements for the Biosafety Protocol click here
To read the recent report: Detection of GMO in food products in South Africa: Implications for Labelling: by CD Viljoe, BK Dajee and GM Botha of the University of Free State, click here.