Retailers demand GM labelling
Cape Town - While the debate rages on the science of genetically modified foods, retailers insist that GM food or products with GM ingredients be labelled to allow consumers a choice.
"Scientific evidence has not proven one way or the other at this point whether GM foods are safe for human consumption.
"Given this situation, we are strongly of the view that all GM foods be adequately labelled in order to keep consumers fully informed and give them the opportunity for informed choice," Pick n Pay's Tamra Veley told News24.
Woolworths said that it has removed all food containing GM products from its shelves or labelled them appropriately.
"Woolworths is committed to responding to customer needs. As a result we have undertaken to eliminate genetically modified ingredients wherever possible.
"Where we are not able to remove these ingredients, we will label them so that customers can make informed choices when they shop at Woolworths," Julian Novak of Woolworths Food told News24.
The National Consumer Forum (NCF) says it supports the labelling of GM food, so that consumers can make an informed choice.
"As part of the world consumer movement, we've supported the proper labelling of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). According to the Consumer Protection Act, to be legislated in October 2010, food needs to be properly labelled," NCF chair Thami Bolani told News24.
He said that there was scientific division of whether GMOs were safe, and the new Act would ensure that companies complied with labelling.
"The world is divided on the safety of GMOs, we cannot say these foods are 100% safe, but these companies have been against labelling," he said.
Bolani warned that control of GM food production was risky.
"If GMOs continue unchecked, companies like Monsanto will control food production. These companies fund research into GMOs and that's why the research produced by these scientists is debateable," he said.
Bolani said that the NCF would conduct testing of food in order to establish whether it contained any GM ingredients and ensure proper labelling.
"We are joining an international research group and we'll be testing products that people consume to test for GMOs. Then we'll be able to take legal action against companies that don't comply," he said.
He added that, according to the Act, the government would fund the NCF and tribunal decisions would be binding.
He also said that there were already food in circulation that contained GMOs, but that was not labelled.
"We know that mielie meal is a staple diet and it's got GM elements, but the law at the moment does not forbid it. But even if we have the law and labelling, people need to be educated about GMOs," he added.
Dr Wynand van der Walt warned that labelling would increase the price of foods and that said that labelling posed logistical problems such as the informal market.
"How do you enforce labelling at spaza shop or street vendor level? How do you label loose potatoes? Table grapes or fresh maize cobs on the sidewalk? Are we going to label T shirts made from GM cotton?" he told News24 on behalf of the Agricultural Biotechnological Industry.
"GM crops and their products are not inherently dangerous to human or animal health, or the environment. Unlike foods from conventional origin, they are scrutinised extensively for safety before approval is granted for commercial release," he added.
Van der Walt also questioned whether the government had the capacity to accurately test for GMOs in food, saying that labelling "must be voluntary for those who want it".