Revoke and remove approved GM food from our shelves

Most consumers all over the world are unwittingly eating food produced from genetically modified (GM) crops. Even in Malaysia, most of us do not know that we may already be eating GM food as foods containing GM ingredients are already on sale here. Consumers unknowingly buy them, as foods containing GM ingredients may not be immediately apparent, unless it is stated in the label.
Malaysia’s food imports are an entry point for GM foods. Because most people don't want to eat GM foods, hardly any GM ingredients are going directly into foods that have to be labelled or that can easily be boycotted by consumers. Animal feed is also a large-scale outlet for GM crops. In most countries, meat, dairy products and eggs produced with animals fed on GM feed do not have to be labeled due to loopholes in food labelling laws.

GM ingredients are going into highly processed foods for instance from the United States of America, where most GM crops are grown. This is the reason the Malaysian government was being pressured during the negotiations for the USA-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement, to drop mandatory labelling for GM products and foods, which would allegedly interfere with market access opportunities for US biotechnology companies.

Through animal feed, GMOs are getting into the human food chain. In the United Kingdom, according to a Soil Association investigation, nearly all the milk, dairy products and pork in UK supermarkets are being produced from animals fed on GM crops, and none of this is labelled. The 2007 report found that around 60% of the maize and 30% of the soya fed to dairy cattle and pigs is GM.

Why should we, as consumers, be wary of GM foods?. Genetic engineering involves the transfer of nucleic acids from one genetic context to another, often across species barriers and in combinations that do not exist in nature. These genetic changes are radically different from those resulting from traditional methods of breeding.

Because living organisms are highly complex, genetic engineers cannot possibly predict all of the effects of introducing these genetic changes. Genetically engineered foods are being introduced without due regard for health, yet many damaging effects will be irreversible.

Genetically modified crops are being grown and consumed by the public, even though there is little scientific study about their health risks, safety testing methodologies are inadequate to assess potential harm, they can carry unpredictable toxins and they may increase the risk of allergenic reactions.

In May 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), a US-based international association of physicians, called for an immediate moratorium on genetically modified foods, saying they pose a "serious health risk".

The AAEM position paper concluded "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health". Because GM foods pose a serious health risk, the AAEM believes that it is imperative to adopt the precautionary principle.

In Malaysia, there are already five approved transgenic events– Roundup Ready soybean, MON 810 maize, MON 863 maize and NK 603 maize for use in food, feed and processing, as well as ice structuring protein derived from a GM yeast, for use in ice-cream. These events were administratively approved in the absence of a biosafety law.

While regulatory safeguards have now been put in place in Malaysia, through the passage of the Biosafety Act in 2007, the Act has yet to be implemented and the implementing regulations are still in a draft form.

Besides the probable adverse health impacts with the ingestion of GM food, the introduction of GM herbicide tolerant plants has been associated with increased use of pesticides. This leads to health impacts in relation to pesticide residue in our food. How can the public make informed decisions about GM foods when there is so little information about its safety or its existence in their food?

From the perspective of the consumer, mandatory full disclosure labeling for GM foods and products is important so that consumers can choose whether or not they want to consume or use GM food or products. Labelling would also let consumers know the GM content of the food, and would serve to warn those who have health concerns. It will also help scientists trace the source of health problems arising from these foods.

Labeling should be required for any food that contains even one genetically engineered ingredient, or that has been produced using genetically modified organisms or enzymes. There should not be any threshold imposed. Labelling would serve to inform consumers about GM content, particularly those who may have religious, ethical or moral concerns.

GM crops and foods have been shown to pose risks to human and animal health and to cause social and environmental problems. With the availability of safe ways of meeting the current and future food needs of the world for example sustainable organic farming, GM crops are a risk that are not worth taking.

In view of this, we call on the government of Malaysia to impose a ban on any food produced through genetic engineering, ban import of foods containing GM ingredients and revoke the approval of the five transgenic events in Malaysia. Besides this, all pending research on GM crops should be called off immediately and precautions taken in disposing research material to prevent contamination.

Press Statement – 16 September 2009

Read about the potential side-effects and health hazards of genetically modified foods in the CAP Guide, What You Should Know About Genetically Modified Foods