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A baby food and a cereal produced by top South African food manufacturers contain high levels of genetically modified (GM) maize or soya – but you would never know because this is not stated on the label.
One reason the industry gives for flouting the law is that it is confused about labelling foods containing GM products.
But Mariam Mayet, head of anti-GM lobby group African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), says food producers fear a consumer backlash.
“And if there is a consumer backlash to GM foods, then farmers might want to move away from GM crops, and if farmers get skittish, then the whole GM industry is threatened,” Mayet said.
Consumer Protection Act regulations require producers and suppliers of food containing five percent or more of GM organisms to state on the label “contains genetically modified organisms” or “produced using genetic modification”.
ACB sent samples of four products with no GM labels to the GMO testing facility at the University of the Free State.
Nestlé’s Cerelac Honey contained 77 percent GM maize; Bokomo wheat-free Pronutro 90 percent GM maize and 71 percent GM soya; Premier Foods’ Impala maize meal 66 percent GM maize; Futurelife energy meal 100 percent GM maize and 36 percent GM soya.
“Consumers are being wilfully deceived and deprived of their right to make informed choices about the food they eat,” said Mayet.
“GMOs present a risk to health and to the environment. Consumers who want to avoid them are not being allowed to do so,” she said.
Asked why they failed to label GM foods, Nestlé spokeswoman Motshidisi Mokwena said she was “trying to contact the African Centre for Biosafety to obtain the report and provide an informed response”.
Felix Lombard of Pioneer Foods said the regulations were unclear. He said the Consumer Goods Council of SA had sought clarification with the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Consumer Commission, but had not received a response.
Premier Foods CEO Tjaart Kruger conceded that they should have GM labels on their maize, and said they would be phasing in the new labels.
Futurelife’s Paul Saad said consultants had said this was “a grey area so we must not label it”.
The Cape Times asked the Department of Trade and Industry why GM regulations were not enforced, and was referred to the National Consumer Commission, which did not reply. - Cape Times