TWN FTA Info | 13 March 2007
CAP Worries FTA Threatens GM Food Labelling
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Re: CAP Worries FTA Threatens GM Food Labelling
The Consumer’s Association of Penang is concerned that the proposed free trade agreement between Malaysia and the US would threaten laws which call for mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
According to its President S M Mohd Idris, pressure is being exerted, including in the context of the Malaysia-US free trade agreement negotiations, for Malaysia to remove these mandatory labeling requirements.
“Such demands are unreasonable and if they are agreed to it would mean that the health and environmental concerns of Malaysians will be pushed aside for the benefit of foreign companies selling food containing GMOs,” he said in a letter to the media.
CAP believes labelling of genetically modified foods is crucial as consumers should have the right to know what food they are eating, particularly for those who may have health, religious and ethical concerns.
Labelling would also push GMO exporting countries to segregate their GM and non-GM crops, shifting the burden to exporter countries, rather than to importing countries like Malaysia to detect and identify GMO shipments.
Letter to the Editor
10 March 2007
Re: Labelling of Genetically Modified Foods
As a group representing consumer interests especially as regards food safety, CAP has been raising concerns about the risks of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), particularly in agriculture and in foods.
We were therefore very encouraged by the government’s efforts to protect health and the environment through two pieces of legislation: the Biosafety Bill (prepared by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment) and an amendment to the Food Regulations 1985 (under the Ministry of Health).
Both laws have been under consideration for the past several years now. They make it mandatory that food products containing GMOs should be labeled that they do contain GMOs. This is in line with legislation in many other countries, designed to protect consumers and the environment.
However we are now extremely concerned and anxious that these two laws are now threatened by proposals made in the negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United States.
The Biosafety Bill, which is under the purview of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has an enabling clause that provides for the identification and labelling of GMOs and items containing GMOs. The amendments to the food regulations come under the purview of the Ministry of Health.
It is imperative that both these Ministries expedite efforts to give effect to mandatory labelling of GMF.
There are several reasons why such mandatory labelling is important:
- Labelling is important for consumer choice, so that consumers can choose whether or not they want to eat GM food.
- There may be unintended effects of GMOs, such as potential allergenic effects. Labelling would let consumers know of the GMO content of the food, and would serve to warn those who have legitimate health concerns. For example, if a gene from a nut is used in a GMO, as many people have potentially fatal nut allergies, they would need to know the content of the food and labeling could meet this need.
- Labelling would also serve to inform consumers about GMO content, particularly those who may have religious, ethical or moral concerns. For example, if a pig gene was used in the making of a GM food, Muslim consumers could be informed by an appropriate label. Likewise, if there are fish genes in GM tomatoes, vegetarians would need a label informing them that a food has a non-vegetarian GM gene.
- Labelling would also push GMO exporting countries to segregate their GM and non-GM crops, shifting the burden to exporter countries, rather than to importing countries like Malaysia to detect and identify GMO shipments.
- Mandatory labeling is required because companies are unlikely to adhere to labeling regarding GMO content if the labeling is only a voluntary measure,
More than forty countries around the world, including China, Japan, Australia and most European nations, already require mandatory labelling of GM foods. Under the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the joint WHO/FAO body regulating international food standards, the Committee on Food Labelling has been discussing a global standard for mandatory GM food labelling. The draft standard on GM labelling has support from a majority of the Committee, including Malaysia.
We understand that pressure is being exerted, including in the context of the Malaysia-US free trade agreement negotiations, for Malaysia to remove these mandatory labeling requirements.
Such demands are unreasonable and if they are agreed to it would mean that the health and environmental concerns of Malaysians will be pushed aside for the benefit of foreign companies selling food containing GMOs. We urge the government, particularly the Ministries concerned, not to bow to such pressure to change its biosafety and food-safety laws, and to continue with its policy to require mandatory labelling of GM food.