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2-Plants: Researchers find traces of modified food in local maize in South Africa

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TITLE:  Researchers find traces of modified food in local maize
SOURCE: The Business Day, South Africa, by Tamar Kahn
DATE:   27 Jan 2006

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Researchers find traces of modified food in local maize
Law does not require labelling of goods with genetically altered components

CAPE TOWN -- Traces of genetically modified organisms can be found in
nearly three-quarters of locally sold maize and soya products that claim
to be free of these ingredients, researchers at the University of the
Free State have found.

This meant that thousands of consumers who buy products labelled
"genetically modified organism-free", "nongenetically modified" or
"organic" may be eating food containing gene-altered ingredients, said
Chris Viljoen, director of the university's genetically modified
organism testing facility.

Food producers and retailers were not deliberately misleading consumers,
he said, as there were currently no guidelines or standards defining
these terms in SA.

SA is the only African country that grows genetically modified crops on
a commercial scale. An estimated 24% of yellow maize, 10% of white
maize, 50% of soya and 85% of the cotton production in 2004 was
genetically modified, according to the International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a global industry body that
promotes genetically modified technology in developing countries.

Viljoen and his colleagues randomly selected 58 maize and soya products
from supermarket shelves, and tested them for gene-altered components.

The results, published in the latest edition of the African Journal of
Biotechnology, show 44 (70%) of the food products contained genetically
modified ingredients. Fourteen of the 20 products labelled genetically
modified organism-free, nongenetically modified or organic tested
positive for genetically modified organisms. These included products as
diverse as soy milk powder, "vegi" steaks, cornflakes, maize meal and
self-raising flour.

The findings highlighted the need for effective regulations to protect
consumers against misleading claims, said Viljoen.

"There is no regulatory body controlling labels, so how much of it is
accurate? Inaccurate labelling is not illegal, but it has implications
for consumers," he said.

South African law currently does not require food producers to label
goods containing genetically modified components.

Different countries used various standards, complicating matters still
further for consumers who purchased imported foodstuffs, said Viljoen.
For example, some countries considered "genetically modified organism-
free" to mean zero genetically modified, while others applied this term
to foods with less than a specific threshold.

In the European Union, "organic" implied zero genetically modified
organisms, while the US agriculture department allowed a 5% threshold
for "organic", he said.

Pick 'n Pay deputy chairman David Robins said the retail group believed
government should introduce mandatory labelling of food containing
genetically modified ingredients.

"We don't have a position on whether it's good or not, but people should
know what they are buying" the deputy chairman said.

Robins said the retailer did not stock products claiming to be free of
genetically modified organisms as the firm did not have confidence in
the truth of these assertions

Woolworths said it had decided in 1999 to remove or replace ingredients
from genetically modified crops wherever possible, or to label affected

Since 2002 it has labelled all products that might contain ingredients
derived from genetically modified crops.


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