UPDATE:  the Consumer act of 2011 requires that the GMO content of food is labeled but industry is still not complying with the law and labeling GM food as such.  For the latest info go to: http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/03/high-genetically-modified-maize-soya-content-in-food/ 

Knowing what is in the food we eat is our fundamental right and making conscious choices about what we eat is key to healthy eating choices.  For decades, the GM food industry has refused us the right to know so that we can make conscious choices.  I find it ironic that the GM industry patents GM crops on the grounds that they are sufficiently different from traditional crops and then resists labeling  GM Foods on the grounds that they are not different enough.  

New draft regulations have been published for the Consumer Protection Act, including a section which deals with the labeling of Genetically Modified (GM) food.  While the Department of T & I recognises Our Right to Know, it appears that in trying to balance the interests of business with securing comsumers Right to Know, the current draft regulations are ineffective.

Consumers have until the 31st of January to submit comments to the department. The African Center of Biodiversity and SAFeAGE will be making detailed submissions to the department to strengthen the legislation and hence secure the Consumer’s Right To Know, by demanding that all GM foods be labelled, a 1% threshold be set and that loopholes to exempt labelling be removed.

What is wrong with the draft Consumer Protection Act as it relates to GM Foods:

The Act is limited & short sighted as it only requires foods containing GM Maize, Soya Bean and Imported Canola oil to be labelled.

New approvals e.g. GM potatoes and GM salmon will not be covered by the regulations. We want the regulations to specify that all new GM food crops will be covered by the regulations, without the need for legislative amendments. As a result, a large proportion of foods are not covered by the Act.

These include: Foods containing cottonseed oil from GM cottonMilk, Eggs, Chicken and Meat from animals raised on GM foods;  Milk from cows that have been given the GM growth hormone; GM Potatoes (If South Africa allows commercial cultivation of GM Potatoes); Any foods containing Canola Oil from locally grown GM Canola (if it is approved in SA); Foods containing artificial sweeteners derived from GM Maize.

The regulations do not require labelling of food containing less than 5% GM content and make allowances for technically unavoidable or adventitious presence. A 5% threshold denies us Our Right To Know & is misleading. Consumers will be under the false impression that food containing less than 5% GM content is actually GM Free. The regulations must specify that the threshold level applies to each GM ingredient in the product and that the threshold is 1% and not 5%.

Our European trading partners only tolerate a 0.9% threshold. It makes sense to set our local threshold at the same level so that we develop one system for local and international foods.  There is no difference in cost to test for 1% or 5% of GM content.

 The Act allows companies to avoid labelling foods by simply declaring that it was not possible or feasible to test for GM content, thus rendering all the GM related legislation weak and ineffective.  A loophole allows companies to avoid specific labelling by using a ambiguous label, “May contain GM…” on the grounds that it is not feasible or possible for them to test for the presence of GM. This ‘opt out’ provision will deny us Our Right to Know.

Download the regulations of the Consumer Protection Act from http://www.dti.gov.za/ccrd/cpa_regulations.htm. Provisions dealing with Labelling of GM Foods are on Page 20.

Edited version of Information on www.labelgmfoods.co.za