Archived news articles - 2004

The Straits Times Forum Page, 9 Jun 2004

GM food here tested for safety

WE THANK Mr Ooi Can Seng and Mr Daniel Koh Kah Soon for their letters, 'More to debate than labelling' (ST, May 28) and 'Don't duck tough questions about GM food' (ST, June 4), respectively.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) would like to assure them that in addressing the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including GM foods, we take a holistic approach that covers food safety, environmental and ethical concerns.

Singapore's national Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) was established in 1999 to ensure public and environmental safety, while allowing for the commercial use of GMO and GMO-derived products, in compliance with international standards.

Members of GMAC are drawn from regulatory agencies such as the AVA, the National Parks Board, the Ministry of Health, A*Star, and the Attorney-General's Chambers as well as academic/research institutes and consumer interest groups such as Case.

In August 1999, GMAC formulated the Singapore Guidelines for the Release of GMOs to ensure safe movement and use of agriculture-related GMOs here as well as to address the issues related to food safety.

When there is an application to import or release GMOs, GMAC will evaluate the application through expert committees.

The AVA will take into consideration GMAC's evaluation before allowing the import of GMOs.

GM foods currently available in the market here (for example, soya bean, corn and canola oil) have been assessed by GMAC and the AVA to be safe for consumption.

We currently do not require the labelling of GM foods. It is now accepted by most countries that labelling is not for food safety reasons but to provide consumers with choice.

There are multiple facets, such as the determining and testing for GM threshold levels and implementation protocol, before an effective labelling programme can be implemented.

These issues are being discussed in depth at Codex Alimentarius meetings. Codex Alimentarius, a body under the World Health Organisation made up of 160 member countries, is the world's authority on food safety and labelling.

Singapore attends most Codex meetings. We will be guided on labelling once a consensus is forged at Codex on its implementation procedure.

In addition, Singapore is a lead country in the dissemination and sharing of information and technology on the genetic modification of food and agricultural products within Asean.

Asean has adopted guidelines for the release of GMOs using Singapore's guidelines as a basis. The AVA has initiated successful Asean programmes on training in the risk assessment of GMOs, GM food testing and public communication on GMOs, as well as the more recent establishment of an Asean GM testing network.

The AVA will continue to follow international developments in genetic modification.

We will monitor the presence of GM foods in our market through regular testing in our laboratory.

We will allow only GM foods which have been tested and found to be safe to be sold in Singapore.

In the case of other agricultural GMOs, for example, plants and fishes, we allow import and release only when it is safe for the environment.

Corporate Communications Manager
for Chief Executive Officer
Agri-food & Veterinary Authority
Ministry of National Development

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