Better labelling of GM foods in Singapore essential
by Bhavani Prakash
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is the main regulatory body in Singapore, responsible for setting food safety and food labelling standards.
Last week on June 9th, 2010, The Straits Times (Singapore’s national newspaper), published an interview with former chief, Dr. Ngiam Toh Tau entitled ”Ensuring Singaporeans don’t go hungry” which is reproduced here by WildSingapore News.
The interview discusses Singapore’s plans to become food resilient, by setting up a vast agri-zone in China’s Jilin city. Dr. Ngiam Toh Tau has actively lobbied to purchase farmland overseas, though unsuccesfully so far, in Argentina and Australia.
The specific part that I responded to was this:
Question by Straits Times interviewer: Speculation is rife as to whether Singapore allows in genetically modified (GM) foods and why. Care to explain?
Dr. Ngiam Toh Tau: Yes, it does, mainly corn and soya beans and products made from them. I think most Singaporeans accept GM produce here is safe.
So far we have not seen any reports pointing to GM foods causing harm to human beings; in the United States, people have been eating such crops for 20 years.
My letter to the Straits Times that came out today in the papers is as follows (the portion in italics have been edited out)
I REFER to the interview with former Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority chief Ngiam Tong Tau (‘Ensuring Singaporeans don’t go hungry’; June 9) and his remarks on genetically modified (GM) foods.
Dr Ngiam said he thinks most Singaporeans accept GM produce here is safe, ( perhaps he is referring to the survey done by 130 school students from 20 schools in Singapore who had interviewed heartlanders in 2009? What was the sample size of the people surveyed and profiles? Isn’t it possible that a lack of knowledge of GM foods and insufficient labelling here, could be a reason for acceptability?) and added that so far, ‘we have not seen any reports pointing to GM foods causing harm to human beings; in the United States, people have been eating such crops for 20 years’.
There are sufficient studies to show that GM foods do cause harm. That is why 30 other countries around the world, which include Japan, Australia and all the European Union countries, have significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GM foods – because they are not considered proven safe. It is a different story in the US, as the approval for production of GM foods is based on studies conducted by the very firms which created them and profit from their sale.
India earlier this year put on hold the commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal (eggplant) due to overwhelming public concerns.
Nearly 90 per cent of US soya and 75 per cent of US corn are genetically modified. Singapore definitely needs better labelling of GM foods so that consumers can decide what is best for them.
I had written on the same topic to The Straits Times last year entitled Super-Rice or Monster rice: Why GM crops can’t feed the world where I argued against the creation of genetically modified rice.
Certainly the lack of clear labelling standards for GM foods in Singapore, and in many parts of Asia is worrying. Slowly but surely, efforts are being made to make consumers more aware.
Greenpeace India had issued a Safe Food Guide: A Consumer’s Guide to GMO Free Food last year. It was quite an eye-opening study that revealed the presence of GM ingredients in many well known labels in India. Such guides need to be made available for every Asian country, so consumers can choose what is safe for their health and the health of the planet.
Further links you may be interested in:
EWTT: Super-Rice or Monster rice: Why GM crops can’t feed the world (This post has a lot of reference links on GM foods that you may find useful)
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