Why can’t GM foods be labelled?

Posted by Laura Grant on August 4, 2008
Posted in Food

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An article in the Sunday Times yesterday reported that many South Africans are unknowingly eating genetically modified maize.

The article listed the following products as testing positive for GM maize: “ProNutro original flavour (52.7 %), ProNutro Toddlers Instant apple and banana flavour (97.5%), Iwisa Maize Meal (27.2%), Tiger Brands Ace samp (53.7%) and Purity cream of maize baby soft porridge (24.9%).”

Pick n Pay No Name Brand cornflakes and Kellogg’s cornflakes were reported to be GM free.

I’m pretty sure I fed at least one of the baby foods listed above to my children when they were babies and I probably wouldn’t have if I’d known that they contained GM maize. My instinct is to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to my children. The government may say that GM maize is perfectly safe, but then evironmental groups like Greenpeace report otherwise.

I’d like to be able to choose whether or not my family eats GM food. Why can’t products with GM ingredients be labelled, anyway? They are in the EU. Would it really make that much of a difference to sales?

The Sunday Times article said that “labelling in South Africa applies only to GM foods that are ‘substantially different’ from non-GM foods or contain animal or human genes”. It quoted Andries Pretorius, of the department of health, as saying: “Currently in South Africa, GM foodstuffs on the shelves only contain inserted bacterial genes and proteins and these foodstuffs are considered substantially equivalent to their non-GM counterparts and therefore do not require to be labelled.”

I can’t say I understand what any of that means, but surely something has either had a “foreign” gene inserted into it or it hasn’t. If it has, then why not tell us?

More than half the maize crop in South Africa is genetically modified so completely GM-free maize is getting harder to find, the article says. Maybe, then, companies should label the products that are “GM free” – and be willing to have them independently tested.


2 Responses to “Why can’t GM foods be labelled?”

  1. pia
    August 5th, 2008 @ 11:43 am

    I think it’s ridiculous that we don’t have GM labels! I certainly would like to know whether the food I am putting in my body has been modified – and I would choose not to eat it, not because I know it will harm me, but because it just might and I have no wish to be a guinea pig.

    In the meantime, I guess all we can do is try to avoid those crops that are known to have a greater chance of being GM – like corn/maize, for example. But not everyone has the luxury of choice.

  2. laura
    August 6th, 2008 @ 7:46 am

    I agree with you. But where do you even start to find out what products have got GM maize (as in, say, corn starch) or soya in them?

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