GMO Label Rules to Be Reviewed; Watchdog Seeks to Close Loophole in Current Laws

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BYLINE: Nompumelelo Magwaza

Local food companies had been hiding large amounts of genetically modified organism (GMO) content behind the "may contain GMOs" label, but this might soon come to an end with possible changes to labelling regulations, the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) said this week.

In terms of the Consumer Protection Act, food producers, importers and packagers are required to label food products in which GMOs make up more than 5 percent and state the level of the GMO content.

"But there has been a loophole," ACB consumer campaigner Zakiyya Ismail said.

Ismail said that labelling regulations were clear in most respects except for a slight technicality in the wording of the regulation.

"The regulation uses the words 'genetically modified organisms', which is different because when we talk about organisms we are talking about live organisms which could be found at a farm level."

She said that by the time a product was complete and ready to be consumed it might be difficult to scientifically test for GMOs because the genetically modified aspect of the product's ingredients could have degraded by that time, but testing for genetically modified ingredients was easier.

For example it is not feasible to test for GMOs in cotton oil, but it is feasible to test for genetically modified ingredients.

"So because the Consumer Protection Act only allows the 'May contain GMOs' label to be used where it is scientifically impractical to test for the GMO content, most food producers hide behind this," she said.

However, this may soon come to an end as the National Consumer Council plans to meet with all stakeholders before the end of this month for a possible rewording of the law to replace the word organism with the word ingredient. …