Archived news articles - 2004

The Straits Times Forum Page, 1 Jun 2004

Labelling GM food not easy

IN HIS commentary, 'Frankenfoods - we need to know' (ST, May 29), Dr Andy Ho writes that consumers have the right to know if a food has been genetically modified (GM).

However, the labelling of GM foods is not only a choice of whether to label but also one of what to label.

Take GM corn, for example. Corn and its products are available in many forms to consumers. Corn can be sold unprocessed or it can be processed into high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener used commonly in the food industries.

If GM foods have to be labelled, then do items that use corn syrup made from GM corn need to be labelled as genetically modified?

This could lead to an array of products, such as soft drinks, baked goods and candy, being labelled as genetically modified.

There is another problem. Corn syrup is so highly processed that even sophisticated laboratories would not be able to detect if a corn syrup was made from normal or GM corn.

So, to what extent should the labelling of GM foods be enforced? Should it be enforced all the way along the food processing chain or should it stop when technology is no longer able to differentiate between GM and non-GM foods? And who should be responsible for the costly process of tracing a corn syrup back to its original source?

Then there is the problem of how much of a GM component an item should contain before it is labelled as a GM food.

The European Union has stated that the contamination of non-GM crops with GM crops is inevitable so it allows a maximum of 1 per cent of GM material in non-GM foods. This contamination occurs when the pollen and seeds of GM crops are carried by wind to neighbouring plots of land planted with non-GM crops.

What level of contamination would the Government be willing to accept?

Should consumers be informed about the level of contamination as well?

The labelling of GM foods is very complicated and the issues I have raised are merely the tip of the iceberg.


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

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