Enviro Monday: Do you know that you are probably eating GMO foods everyday?

Farmers in South Africa are using toxic glyphosate-based products, and are farming crops that have been genetically modified and are therefore classified as  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

Even if farm produce was correctly labelled, most South Africans would have little choice in their consumption of these products, says Haidee Swanby from the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB).

Jonathan Latham, who writes for Bioscience, says that the purpose of GM foods is not to feed the world or improve farming, but is about commercial gain. In his view GMO’s exist in order for crop suppliers to maintain intellectual property or patent rights over seeds and plant breeding in order to drive agriculture in the direction that benefits agribusinesses.

South Africa is unique in that it has allowed the country’s staple foods – maize and soya – to be genetically modified.

A significant percentage of maize and soya in SA is GMO. This means that these food crops have had their natural DNA or their genes altered with DNA molecules from a different source. This combining of DNA leads to the creation of a new variety of plant or organism, artificially designed to withstand weed killers and herbicides that contain the active ingredient glyphosate – a product that kills all plants that are not genetically modified.

The Consumer Protection Act makes labelling of GM food mandatory, but the food industry has been disputing the interpretation of the regulations meant to implement this which has led to a stalemate on the labeling issue.

Swanby says although some companies have started labeling voluntarily, government is not doing enough to implement labelling, and monitoring.

“There are health related issues which include impacts on the kidneys, liver, the stomach, reproductive system and the immune system. Research needs to be followed up as most GMOs are grown with herbicides – particularly glyphosate, which was declared a probable human carcinogen by the International Research Agency of the World Health Organisation. This has implications for consumers, farmers and farm workers,” Swanby warned.

Popo Maja, media liaison officer for the national Department of Health said: “The Health Department does not have a position on GMO as there is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. Much of the public is convinced that genetic modification is a health danger, hence the fierce push to label GMO food. Some of the health concerns of food safety are warranted.

“Scientific evidence recommends caution with respect to certain kinds of GMOs, especially if there are genes involved that confer antibiotic resistance. The Health Department’s role is to work with all stakeholders and the food industry to ensure that the South African public has access to nutritious food that enhances their overall health status.”


Caxton Central

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