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CONSUMERS & REGULATION: Proposed 5% threshold for GM food ”very ambiguous and highly misleading” says South African NGO



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   THRESHOLD FOR GM LABELS TOO HIGH - NGO

SOURCE:  IOL, South Africa

AUTHOR:  Samantha Enslin-Payne

URL:     http://www.iol.co.za/business/business-news/threshold-for-gm-labels-too-high-ngo-1.1019012

DATE:    31.01.2011

SUMMARY: "Genetically modified food has been thrown into the spotlight by the draft consumer protection regulations that stipulate that food producers have to label all food that contains more than 5 percent genetically modified maize, soya beans or imported canola oil. [...] Africa Centre for Biosafety director Mariam Mayet said last week that the 5 percent threshold was ?very ambiguous and highly misleading?, as it did not explain if it applied to single ingredients or the total contents of food products."

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THRESHOLD FOR GM LABELS TOO HIGH - NGO

Genetically modified (GM) food has been thrown into the spotlight by the draft consumer protection regulations that stipulate that food producers have to label all food that contains more than 5 percent genetically modified maize, soya beans or imported canola oil.

But NGOs say the regulations are weak and will limit consumers? right to choose.

Africa Centre for Biosafety director Mariam Mayet said last week that the 5 percent threshold was ?very ambiguous and highly misleading?, as it did not explain if it applied to single ingredients or the total contents of food products.

The regulations say that if manufacturers cannot test for genetically modified organisms, then food can be labelled: ?May contain genetically modified food?, which gives them a convenient loophole.

?This is contrary to the spirit of the new legislation, which is to provide consumers with adequate information,? Mayet said.

European trading partners only tolerated a 0.9 percent threshold, so it made sense to set South Africa?s threshold at the same level to develop one segregation system for local and international foods, she said.

The regulations only specify disclosure for maize, soya and canola. Other products would be excluded from labelling, giving consumers the impression they were buying food that was free of genetically modified organisms.

?The Department of Trade and Industry must draft (legislation) in a clever way so it covers future crops,? Mayet said. Genetically modified salmon has been approved in the US and there have been attempts to register genetically modified potatoes in South Africa.

But Mayet said the department should be applauded for pushing ahead with greater disclosure of genetically modified content in food.

?Our concern is about the growing dominance of a small number of seed companies, which are increasing control over food production.?

Three of the largest genetic engineering companies operate in South Africa: Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred (a subsidiary of DuPont) and Syngenta.

Monsanto controlled 50 percent of the local market for maize seed in 2009. South Africa?s largest seed company, Pannar Seed, sells genetically modified seed varieties under licence from Monsanto. Pannar was recently subject to a takeover bid by Pioneer Hi-Bred.

Fahrie Hassan, the media liaison for the Label GM Foods Campaign, said a French research team study showed that the concerns about genetically modified food included that consumption of the food by rats resulted in organ damage. Claims by multinational biotechnology companies that their animal studies showed no ill-effects of genetically modified food consumption could not be considered accurate because independent studies refuted their findings, he said.

?We just don?t know what the long-term effects on humans will be and of particular concern is that South Africa is the only country that has allowed its staple food to be genetically modified.? About 60 percent of maize sold locally is genetically modified.

Mayet said there were many hotly contested food safety issues. ?There are concerns about the imprecise nature of the technology and whether there is an impact on vulnerable people, such as those who are HIV positive.?

Woolworths managing director of food Zyda Rylands said since 2001 the company had been labelling food containing genetically modified ingredients. ?We remove or replace ingredients derived from genetically modified crop sources where we can. Where we can?t, we clearly label products that may contain genetically modified ingredients.

?We believe in providing customers with sufficient product information to make informed choices. Our GM policy exceeds current regulatory requirements.?

Some major food brand owners were reluctant to enter the debate. AVI, which produces Five Roses tea, Provita biscuits and Ellis Brown creamer, declined to comment.

Bongiwe Njobe, the corporate sustainability director at Tiger Brands, said that ?until the regulations are published, we are unable to comment. We await the release of the regulations, which are due month end. At that time we?ll review and take time to understand the impact.?

A Unilever spokesman said: ?Unilever supports the responsible use of biotechnology within the framework of effective regulatory control and provision of information about its use. We conduct our operations in accordance with the laws of the land. Currently there are no regulations in place in South Africa that mandate the measuring of the presence of genetically modified foods.?

Comments on the draft consumer protection regulations must reach the department before the end of today.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   ?GENETIC LABELLING? CLAIMS WRONG

SOURCE:  Business Day, South Africa

AUTHOR:  Chris Viljoen

URL:     http://www.businessday.co.za/Articles/Content.aspx?id=133250

DATE:    03.02.2011

SUMMARY: "It was with interest that I read recent press articles about calls to label modified foods. I was most interested in the comments on the perceived link between the threshold for labelling and the cost of labelling. First, whether the threshold is 5% or 1%, there is no cost difference in laboratory testing"

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?GENETIC LABELLING? CLAIMS WRONG

It was with interest that I read recent press articles about calls to label modified foods. I was most interested in the comments on the perceived link between the threshold for labelling and the cost of labelling.

First, whether the threshold is 5% or 1%, there is no cost difference in laboratory testing ? I should know as I run the GMO Testing Facility that performs routine genetic modification detection in SA.

Further, the regulations make provision for companies to assume an ingredient contains genetically modified matter if it was derived from a crop for which there is a genetically modified equivalent being produced in SA, such as maize or soybean. In such a case, no laboratory testing would be required, with no additional cost to the company. Compared to this, companies that want to indicate an ingredient has not been genetically modified would be required to verify this using laboratory tests ? but this is no different to what is being practised.

Second, the proposition that genetic modification labelling will increase food costs 10% to 20% is unfounded and based on misinformation. In a comprehensive study in the European Union (EU) it was estimated that the added cost to food of genetic modification labelling ranged from 0,01% to 0,17%, depending on the stringency required. The EU system for genetic modification labelling is considerably more stringent than in SA and from this it is reasonable to suggest that the labelling cost to food would be much lower in SA.

There has never been a documented report that genetic modification labelling has led to a cost increase in food anywhere. What is being implemented in SA can be considered a minimum level compared to genetic modification labelling in other countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, New Zealand and the EU.

Third, the comment that some food products ?cannot be accurately analysed or labelled because they do not contain detectable protein? is misleading. It is true that processing destroys protein, making it undetectable, but the world standard for performing genetic modification analysis on food is not based on detecting protein but rather DNA (the molecule responsible for making the protein).

DNA is considerably more stable than protein and genetic modification detection laboratories around the world routinely analyse highly processed food ingredients, including starches and oils.

It is true, however, that extremely processed products cannot be tested accurately for genetically modified content as even the DNA may be destroyed. In such cases the ingredients used to make the extremely processed product can be tested.

Finally, genetic modification labelling is no different to labelling foods for the presence of additives or colorants ? common practice in SA. There is no report that this practice has resulted in any food cost increase either. If consumer rights are truly autonomous, genetic modification labelling should be no exception.

Prof Chris Viljoen, GMO Testing Laboratory, University of the Free State