Archived news articles - 2004

The Straits Times Commentary, 28 May 2004

More to debate than labelling

Controversy over genetically modified food

I REFER to the article, 'New AVA lab testing GM food here' (ST, May 20).

Singapore is again asserting its technological leadership, in this case, showing the way towards genetically modified (GM) food safety in the Asian context. Identifying whether ingredients in Asian foods are genetically modified and safe or not, is important for us. That is a task that our Asian neighbours will also appreciate.

However, the authorities' position on GM foods is still unclear. The technological leadership demonstrated by the authorities seems very limited.

The GM debate in the United States and the European Union shows that the issues are far from resolved. It is more than just whether we should label GM foods or not. The Americans, under pressure from strong industrial lobbies, claim that GM foods are safe. However, the Europeans, under the influence of strong environmental and consumer lobbies, remind us that tests have not shown conclusively that GM foods have no long-term negative health effects.

Environmental lobbies have also pointed to the possible detrimental ecological consequences of GM crops. Besides that, farmers who use GM seeds may become dependent on big-business GM seed producers, as these seeds cannot be harvested.

The GM debate is on-going, and the current compromise between the Americans and the Europeans is that GM foods should be labelled in the European market, so that consumers can make a choice.

The Singapore authorities seem to have simplified the issues in the local context - should GM food be labelled? And to resolve this issue, they will be relying on Codex Alimentarius, an international committee.

Will we become a rubber stamp for Codex Alimen-tarius? Who's lobbying Codex Alimentarius? Who is representing Asia on this committee? How is Singapore demonstrating its leadership with regard to the social, environmental and health issues concerning GM foods?

Should not Asian consumers be educated on these issues as well?

To be a leader, Singapore needs to not only demonstrate its ability to develop and adapt technologies to the Asian context, but it must also address the health, environmental and ethical issues that are relevant to Asia.

So, AVA, assert leadership all the way!

OOI CAN SENG

Singapore Press Holdings Limited The Straits Times (Singapore).Copyright 2004

Issued by GMAC

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