Archived news articles - 2004

The Straits Times Forum Page, 9 Jun 2004

Health and environment the main concern

WE REFER to Dr Andy Ho's commentary, 'Frankenfoods - we need to know' (ST, May 29), and the letters, 'Labelling GM food not easy' (ST, June 1) and 'Don't duck tough questions about GM food' (ST, June 4), from Mr Alvin Loo Eng Kiat and Mr Daniel Koh Kah Soon respectively.

Labelling does, indeed, provide consumers with the information to make choices. However, as Mr Loo pointed out, the issue is not a simple one. There are two key issues that need to be considered before an effective labelling programme can be implemented, such as which types of foods are to be labelled and the determining of threshold levels. We also need to factor in the requirement that any such programme must be scientifically based so as not to fall afoul of World Trade Organisation rules.

There are also issues related to analysis. As a result of protein and DNA degradation during manufacturing or preparation, very little or no DNA can be detected in products such as purified lecithin (for example, soya lecithin), refined vegetable oil (for example, corn oil), starch derivatives (for example, maltodextrin, glucose syrup, corn starch), hydrolysed plant protein (for example, soya sauce powder) and heat-treated or processed finished products (for example, canned products).

The critical issue is ensuring the safety of these products to human health and the environment. However, as Dr Ho highlighted, labelling does not equate to safety.

The story of monarch butterflies and GM maize has been proven to be unlikely. A series of papers in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2001, including two by Dr John Losey, have shown that it is very unlikely that monarch butterfly larvae could have been poisoned by maize pollen that had been genetically engineered to contain a natural insecticide. Dr John Losey was one of the key authors from Cornell University who had first published the paper in the journal, Nature, that showed the impact of GM maize pollen on monarch butterflies.

So far, there has been no conclusive evidence that any of the GM foods in the market are unsafe. The Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) has studied and evaluated reports on the safety tests and risk assessments of GM foods available in the market here, for example, soya bean, corn and canola oil, and agree that they are safe for consumption.

These safety tests and risk assessments are based on well established and accepted scientific evidence, which include but are not restricted to, tests on dietary exposures, toxicity and allergenicity. GMAC will continue to study and evaluate the safety tests and risk assessments of all foods containing GM organisms (GMOs) before they are released into Singapore.

As for the issue of labelling, it is still being examined (see other letter).

GMAC's primary objective is to ensure public and environmental safety, while allowing for the commercial use of GMO and GMO-derived products by companies and research institutions, in compliance with international standards.

GMAC released, in August 1999, the Singapore Guidelines for the Release of Genetically Modified Organisms. They can be found at www.gmac.gov.sg

AIRANI RAMLI (MS)
Secretariat, Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC)
for Chairman, GMAC

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

Issued by GMAC

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