The Case to Include GM Labelling in the Consumer Protection Bill.
The Consumer Protection Bill, an act of Parliament devised to protect the rights of consumers, as its name suggests, has come before the National Council of Provinces, usually the final step before ratification. Interestingly the NCOP has asked for comment on the bill before it is ratified. One issue that has elicited much debate is the matter of foods derived from crops that have been genetically modified (GM).
Some of the defined reasons for the Consumer Bill, clearly laid out in the preamble, include; providing relevant information for consumers, promoting sustainable and environmentally responsible consumption and protecting consumers from hazards to their health and safety. The bill additionally aims to provide effective redress for consumers, promote consumer participation in the decision making process and facilitate the freedom of consumers to associate and form groups to advocate and promote their common interest.
In light of all of this it is remarkable that the drafters of this bill have been persuaded to remove all reference to disclosing the nature and extent of the presence of genetically modified components, as included in its initial draft in section 27 (1) (a) (i), where it explicitly stated that producers, “must display on or in association with that packaging or those goods, a notice in the prescribed manner and form that...discloses the presence, nature and extent of any…genetically modified ingredients or components of those goods.”
More interesting still is how this reference was withdrawn and what the motivation was.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are generally legislated by the Genetically Modified Organisms Act, Act 15 of 1997, overseen by the Department of Agriculture. While this Act has recently been reviewed, it remains a controversial and industry friendly piece of legislation. It has been roundly criticised as facilitating the introduction of GM crops rather than meaningfully regulating them. It has no reference to consumer protection; in fact it undermines this as it clearly states that any negative effects of GM organisms shall be the responsibility of the ‘user’. That can mean anyone, including the consumer.
Quite how the consumer is meant to control this onerous responsibility is moot, given that the Department of Agriculture has stringently opposed labelling and tracking of GM crops through the food supply. It has actively supported the industry line that GM crops are the same as natural varieties of food crops, despite this claim being completely unsupported by scientific facts. Ironically GM crops are unique and different enough to be patented!
An indication of how the clause referring to GM was withdrawn from the Consumer Protection Bill is highlighted by exchanges in 2006 around the labelling of GM crops. In a meeting of the Executive Council, the decision making body responsible for administering the GMO Act, Ben Durham, a noted proponent of GM technology employed by the department of Science and Technology stated that according to expert opinion, the GM industry should be self regulated within parameters set by government.
It is notable that the scientist, who supposedly made this statement, Prof. Chris Viljoen of the University of the Free State, an expert in the regulation of GM technology in South Africa, says he was misquoted.
In clarification Prof. Viljoen stated, “The comment by Ben Durham is slightly out of context. The discussion had been around the fact that government wants the industry to self-regulate. My comment had been that this would still require government to establish parameters in which this would happen. But I never suggested that self-regulation was the method of choice.”
This apparently wilful misinterpretation is indicative of the pro-industry bias within both the Departments of Agriculture and Science and Technology. It is this bias that lies behind the Department of Agriculture intervention to have references to GMOs withdrawn from the Consumer Protection Bill.
The department of Agriculture has repeatedly stated its clear intentions to keep full control of GM regulation within its ambit. This overlooks the fact that the GMO Act plays no role whatsoever in consumer protection, despite continuous lobbying to have such wording introduced by public interest groups for over a decade.
The regulator of the GMO Act, an official appointed by the minister of Agriculture has historically refused to divulge basic safety information requested on GMO crops. This forced the NGO Biowatch to take the government to court to gain this information, which was achieved.
Behind all of this lies the hidden hand of powerful financial interests, mainly the multinational Monsanto, currently the biggest seed company in the world and South Africa, as well as the corporation that controls the patents on most of the GM crops grown locally and globally. Monsanto has been found guilty of bribery and lying in many cases around the world. It has had an inordinate influence on national and international regulatory mechanisms, directly and indirectly, through front groups like AfricaBio, Hans Lombard Communications, The International Service for the Acquisition of AgriBiotech Applications, the Free Market Foundation and CropLife, to name just a few.
This is also of especial concern as far as the relationship to issues of funding of political entities is concerned, particularly given the secrecy behind this cornerstone of democracy in South Africa.
Whatever the reasons that references to the labelling and identification of GM derived foods in South Africa have been removed from the Consumer Protection Bill, they clearly lie at odds with the stated reasons for drafting this Bill contained within the preamble.
The fact is that there is a broad and inclusive grouping of individuals and organisations with well defined concerns about GM ingredients being snuck into their food supply without their knowledge or permission, which has been ignored for years. Yet the Consumer Bill makes explicit reference to just such consumer organisations, such as SAFeAGE, a local GM lobby network with over 3 million members, providing a powerful reason to re-insert the reference to GM labelling in the Bill.
Beside the above, there are several other good reasons to have proper GM labelling in place. First of all is the fact that it is completely unscientific and misleading to claim that nobody has been affected by GM foods if they are not being tracked and identified from farm to plate. If they had been, untoward effects may have been able to be isolated, whereas with no identification any ill effects are most likely to be ascribed to other causes.
Secondly if GM food is as safe as it is claimed to be then there should be no reluctance to identify it. The most vociferous opponents of labelling are the GM corporations like Monsanto, who claim GM food is safe. Despite the fact that this claim is completely unsubstantiated in the scientific literature, as shown by the forced withdrawal of a Monsanto advertisement by the Advertising Standards Authority in South Africa in 2007 because Monsanto failed to provide such proof that GM derived foods were safe, as they claimed.
A major reason put forth by Monsanto and others to exclude GM crops from labelling is that this would increase food costs. This is a red herring and has been shown to not be the case. In fact the increased value of properly labelled products would ensure full life cycle responsibility by those who introduce it to the market, as the Consumer Protection Bill clearly aims to.
Third is the fact that the GMO Act is not a consumer bill but simply a facilitatory act for the introduction of GM crops. It was not written to include any consumer protections. In fact it avoids these by putting the onus on ‘the user’, which is the consumer, while simultaneously failing to provide any mechanism to enable this.
In light of all of the above, and given the clarity of the intentions of the preamble to the Consumer Protection Bill, it is clear that the NCOP can no longer omit the matter of labelling of GM foods from the Bill. The representatives of the NCOP must, as a matter of duty, insist on its inclusion when the Bill is ratified. To fail to do so would be a failure to protect the rights of South African consumers, especially in light of the fact that we have the first GM staple food in the world in white GM maize.
Glenn Ashton is chair of the Steering Committee for SAFeAGE, the SA Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering, networking the interests of over 3.3 million consumers concerned about GM foods in South Africa.
GM foods - The Crime
Watch this and see why we need to know if we are eating GM foods.
Mandatory Labelling of GMOs
I sent the following comments to the Secretary of Parliament and, as pointed out in my submission, will definitely lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission should they refuse to reinstate mandatory labelling in the Consumer Protection Bill.
As a citizen of this nation I hereby exercise my constitutional rights to a healthy environment and healthy food, the right of informed choice and consent and participation in decision-making processes relating to this contentious issue, the right to information and above all the individual’s human right to bodily integrity, the latter being the most significant provision of the Nuremberg Code, which sets forth the legal requirements for human experimentation, i.e. “ voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential”. Likewise, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares bodily integrity central to both human rights and human dignity and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights unmistakably declares that “no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation”. By deliberately ignoring the precautionary principle enshrined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which South Africa is signatory, and refusing to implement mandatory labeling of GM products, this government allows its citizens to be used as guinea pigs of multinational biotech companies, sacrificing the nation’s health for corporate greed.
I hereby demand the immediate implementation and reinstatement of mandatory GMO labelling in the Consumer Protection Bill. Failure to comply with my request endorsed by millions of citizens of this nation constitutes an act of criminal negligence and wilful intent to do grievous bodily harm and I will not hesitate to lay a respective charge against the decision-makers in this process with the Human Rights Commission.
Unless severely intelligence-challenged, the decision-makers in our government, particularly the former and current minister of agriculture, cannot be that naïve and oblivious to the fact that the concept of “substantial equivalence” is by no means based on evidence-based science but was coined by scientifically-illiterate lawyers of the biotech companies and written into law by HW Bush who issued an Executive Order proclaiming GM plants (soya, corn) to be “substantially equivalent” to their traditional counterparts and therefore not needing any special health safety study or testing. Ethical scientists and researchers, including my own daughter who is a genetic researcher with a B Sc. Honours degree in molecular genetics and a B Sc. Master’s degree in genetics, refute the validity of the substantial equivalence principle and consider it the biggest farce and fraud ever committed in the science field. The FDA, supposedly established to protect peoples’ health, and other regulatory bodies such as EPA blindly adopted this ill-begotten ruling, which, however, is not surprising given the amply documented corrupt symbiosis between the FDA and pharma and biotech companies. And anyone involved in the GM debacle, as I have been for the past ten years, is well aware of the meanwhile legendary revolving door at the FDA, the best example of which was the approval of aspartame and Monsanto’s rBGH drug, which was approved against the advice and conscience of the FDA’s own scientists thanks to the moles planted in the FDA by Monsanto, such as Michael Taylor.. The wording of the approval, i.e. “the risks to animals and humans is MANAGEABLE” goes down in history as the most appalling case of total disregard to human health by the very agency that is supposed to protect the latter and is the first time ever that a veterinary drug had been approved for human consumption because the risk was considered manageable. Of course, it will be “manageable” and a billion-dollar scoop for the cancer industry, given the fact that according to independent researchers, scientists and physicians NOT bought and funded by biotech companies rBGH may cause colon, prostrate and breast cancer.
It is absolutely shocking that our government keeps parroting the scientifically nonsensical ramblings of the FDA and of the well-remunerated spin-doctors of biotech companies, i.e. that genetically engineered foods are “substantially equivalent” to their traditional counterparts and therefore safe for human con-sumption. GMOs contain antibiotic-resistant marker genes, viral promoters and foreign proteins never before consumed by humans and not found in crops produced through normal means of hybridization.
In addition, neither the FDA nor any other regulatory body are testing these products themselves and rely on the edited and “cooked” summaries provided by the very companies they are supposed to regulate. In fact, NO HUMAN SAFETY STUDY HAS EVER BEEN CONDUCTED, except for one small “study” – referred to as the “Newcastle Feeding Study” – conducted in 2003, which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that even after one small meal containing GM soya, trans-genes could transfer out of GM food into gut bacteria at detectable levels.
There is now overwhelming evidence documented in scientific literature of deaths attributable to GM products. In addition to the high toxicity of Monsanto’s MON 863, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt by scientists from CRIIGEN last year, another study conducted by Russian scientist Irina Ermakova showed that 55% of the offspring of rats fed on GM soya died within three weeks of birth. The second study by Manuela Malatesta and colleagues in the universities of Pavia and Urbino in Italy showed that mice fed on GM soya experienced a slowdown in cel-lular metabolism and modifications to liver and pancreas. The third study conducted by YCSIRO in Australia showed that the introduction of genes from a bean variety into a GM pea led to the creation of a novel protein which caused inflammation of the lung tissue of mice.
In view of the indisputable evidence provided by thousands of eminent researchers and scientists that GMOs are toxic and thus pose a threat to both animal and human health, it is absolutely inconceivable that this government voluntarily keeps embracing the shackles of unscrupulous multinational biotech companies with total disregard for the health of its citizens. Likewise appalling is the fact that, in violation of the stated Codex principles respecting diversity of opinion, the South African government bowed to the bullying tactics of the U.S. and withdrew its statement CRD 21 arguing for mandatory labeling of all genetically modified foods from the Codex process at the recent Codex meeting in Ottawa, Canada. Surely, those in our governments who showed such deplorable lack of backbone must be aware of the fact that in the absence of any human safety study having ever been conducted, force-feeding the whole nation with potentially dangerous and toxic GMOs without the peoples’ knowledge and above all CONSENT constitutes human experimentation which is prohibited and in violation of the Helsinki Declaration, which clearly states that any time “there is research on human beings, each potential subject must be adequately informed of the aims, methods, anticipated benefits and potential hazards of the study and the discomfort it may entail. He or she should be informed that he or she is at liberty to abstain from participation in the study and that he or she is free to withdraw his or her consent to participation at any time”.
Given the fact that South Africa is the only country on the African continent that grows its staple food (white maize) in genetically modified form and that the poorest of the poor are consuming a product laced with antibiotic-resistant marker genes and the most commonly used promoter, i.e. the cauliflower mosaic virus, which is closely related to the Hepatitis B and HIV virus, this government should also be held responsible and liable for the sharp rise in HIV infections and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis cases. In this context, I refer to my article (below) which has been published in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada.
Correlation between GMOs and multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis---by Ingrid Blank
"Instead of blaming multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis on patients and their alleged non-adherence to the prescribed drug regime, it would be prudent to inves-tigate and eradicate the underlying cause for multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis and other drug and antibiotic resistant infectious diseases first - namely commercial gene technology! The disaster unfolding on a global scale is exactly the reason why the first genetic engineers called for a moratorium in the Asilomar Declaration of 1975. For decades, reputable and ethical scientists such as Dr. Mae Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins have warned -substantiated by scientific evidence - that horizontal gene transfer, i.e. the transfer of genes by vectors (viruses and other infectious agents)designed to cross species barriers and thus enhancing the potential for creating new viral and bacterial pathogens, will result in the creation of superbugs and multi-drug resistant diseases. According to these eminent genetic researchers, strains of bacteria "crippled" in the laboratory can survive in the environment and exchange genes with other organisms. DNA from dead and living cells persists in the environment and transfers to other organisms. Naked viral DNA (virus without its viral coat)is even more infectious and may well be taken up by mammalian cells including our own! In addition, viral DNA has shown to resist digestion in the gut of mice, enters the blood stream to infect white blood cells, spleen and liver cells. One such virus most commonly used as a promoter in genetic engineering is the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) which, due to its recombination hotspot, is prone to break and join with other DNA to integrate into the cell's genome, which could activate host genes and lead to cancer. In addition, CaMV is closely related to the Hepatitis B and HIV virus and due to its ability to propagate in plant and insect hosts after recombination may also recombine with related Hepatitis B and HIV to create a most powerful disease in a large number of people consuming large numbers of virus genes incorporated into crop plants. In the South African setting, the number of people at risk could not get any larger, since our government unilaterally decided without the peoples' knowledge and above all prior CONSENT, to grow our staple food (white maize) in genetically modified form without adhering to the precautionary principle, thus violating our constitutional rights to a healthy environ-ment and healthy food. For the reasons described above it is therefore imperative to demand immediate implementation of mandatory labeling of genetically modified food products in compliance with our constitutional rights of informed choice and consent, participation in decision-making processes and above all the individual's right to bodily integrity, the latter being the most significant provision of the Nuremberg Code, which sets forth the legal requirements for human experimentation, i.e. " voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essen-tial". Likewise, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares bodily integrity central to both human rights and human dignity and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights unmistakably declares that "no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation". By deliberately ignoring the precautionary principle and refusing to implement mandatory labeling of GM products, this government allows its citizens to be used as guinea pigs, sacrificing the nation's health for corporate greed. There is no such thing as "substantial equivalence". This phrase was coined by scientifi-cally illiterate lawyers of the biotech industry and in 1992 written into law by H.W. Bush, who proclaimed GM plants to be "substantially equivalent" to their tradi-tional counterparts and therefore did not need any special health safety study or testing. Ethical scientists and researchers consider this the biggest farce and fraud ever committed in the science field. Contrary to what the corporate yarn spinners of biotech companies want the public to believe, not one single human safety study has ever been conducted! One does not need a PhD in genetics to see the correlation between GMOs and the sharp rise in HIV infections and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and other diseases. The decision-makers who keep violating our human right to bodily integrity by unleashing these toxins into our environment and food chain without our knowledge and consent must be held accountable.
Another capitalist ploy
To view the consequences of GM seed, the original propagated intention thereof has to be considered. It was supposed to limit the input costs for farmers by modifying the seed to be pest and drought resistant and to increase crop yields. To the contrary input costs have escalated because farmers are now forced to buy seed from multinationals like Monsanto at astronomical prices. Before the introduction of GM seed they could retain seed from harvested crops but GM seed cannot be replanted.
From the outset ethical questions arose regarding economical issues related to the control of modified crops and seeds by powerful corporations and the dominance they could exercise over small farmers, particularly in developing countries. These initial fears are now becoming reality. As usual capitalism is not about improving conditions for the masses, but rather to gain effective control over the masses by financially enslaving them on a global scale.
The fact that GMF legislation was slapped together without much consideration for the consumer is confirmation that consumers are considered merely as cash cows within a failing capitalist system. It further puts a question mark on the sincerity and ability of the current government to protect the state (consumer) from exploitation. As stated in your article, the possibility of secret funding of political entities cannot be disregarded.
The numerous appalling socio-economical issues that plague SA and numerous other countries are extracts of the perilous capitalist policy exercised by democratically elected governments. The SA electorate must guard against a post 2009 continuation of our current misery. Government accountability to its electorate and a socialist economical policy is the only effective counters thereto.