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3-Food: Developing countries fear to become dumping ground for GE food



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Genetically -modified foods may be already on supermarket shelves
New Straits Times (Malaysia) March 10, 1999
By Rose Ismail

Frankenstein foods on your supermarket shelves? The tofu drink, bread, 
breakfast cereal or soya sauce you purchased today may have been tampered 
with - genetically. Although the dangers remain unknown, there is growing 
evidence that genetically-modified (GM) foods can cause increased levels 
of toxins in humans and animals, a higher susceptibility to allergies and 
resistance to antibiotics. Currently, there are no quick scientific 
methods to identify such produce. They taste and look like their 
unmodified counterparts. GM foods are created by scientists who suppress, 
copy or splice genes from one plant, animal or bacterium into another. In 
the case of plants, modification is done to hasten or delay ripening as 
well as to increase resistance to pests and chemicals. However, the 
results can be unexpected and dangerously irreversible. Labelling, 
therefore, would help consumers.

This controversial subject was discussed by consumer activists, 
scientists and government officers who attended an international 
conference on food security in Penang last week. The conference 
organiser, F. Josie of Consumers International's Regional Office for Asia 
and the Pacific (CI-ROAP), said that countries like Malaysia were "at 
high risk of being treated as a dumping ground for such items" because of 
the ban on GM foods in the European Union. Nothing, however, is being 
done to prevent the entry of such foods into countries like ours as there 
are no labels attached to such produce and no laws which demand the 
labelling of such items. Furthermore, transnational corporations 
producing such crops - in countries like the US, Canada, China and 
Argentina - are resisting labelling, thus denying both governments and 
people the right to choose what they want on their dinner tables. 
Proponents of GM foods say the technology will help feed the world, 
promote sustainable development, protect communities and reduce the use 
of chemicals in the environment. Opponents, however, say conventional 
farming methods have still not been fully exploited and that genetic 
modification in plants could affect the immune system and cause other 
long-term health problems.

"People must know what they are buying and eating," said Gurmit Singh, 
director of the Centre for Technology, Development and Environment 
Malaysia. "I am all for science and technology. But I also believe people 
have the right to choose. What we need is more information about the 
effects of such technology," said Universiti Putra Malaysia's Professor 
Dr Ghazali Mohayidin. "We are still far too relaxed about raw produce 
coming into the country. The public should know how important this is. 
Such carelessness can, for instance, wipe out our entire palm oil 
industry, said another UPM professor Dr Zulkifli Shamsuddin. However, as 
Josie stated at the close of the conference, such foods may already be 
available in Malaysia because consumer protection laws in this country 
lag far behind social and market developments. "How can we effectively 
prevent the entry of banned items when we don't have the laws or the 
experts at entry points to deal with such matters?"


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-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| GENET
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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