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Idea of mandatory GMO labeling has supporters in Canada, South Africa

(Oct 7, 2001 – CropChoice news) – Mandatory labeling of transgenic foods has made headway in Canada and in South Africa.

North of the border, Canadian Minister of Health Allan Rock said last week that, given his support of consumers knowing what they’re eating, he supports mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

The Canadian Parliament has before it legislation, which Rock supports, that would enact mandatory labeling of transgenic foods.

Rock told the National Post: "We should be looking at the question of mandatory labeling. The bottom line is consumers want to have the information and they want to have a choice and to understand what they are eating. I think any government should facilitate that.

It is about time government caught up to the will of Canadians to be reasonably informed about what they are putting in their bodies. There is a strong public interest.

In Europe, there is a policy that you must label if there is anything genetically modified in the food. In Japan, there are rules coming into effect in January. In Australia and New Zealand, there are rules coming into effect in December of this year, so I think we should take look at it."

Meanwhile, South Africa’s draft policy on transgenic food and products, while supportive of biotechnology, does call for mandatory labeling of products that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Even supporters of the draft policy point out potential downsides. Dr. Shadrack Moephuli, director of genetic resources for the Department of Agriculture, sees what he regards as positive aspects of biotechnology, including employment generation and the potential to grow more food. But he also harbors reservations, which he talked about with the Mail & Guardian: "What remains contentious to me is to what extent poor people in rural areas, as well as consumers, would benefit from the whole process. We need a debate about pollution, cross-pollination, biotechnology, and invasive species."

In an interview with the same publication, Dr Chris Viljoen, senior lecturer at the University of the Free State's botany and genetics department, said: "Identity preservation, or the ability to distinguish GM varieties is a prerequisite to manage GM plant use in African agriculture. This would avoid a situation where farmers have to pay the patent holder its rightful royalty."

Viljoen also disagrees with the idea that sowing genetically engineered crops will help to feed the world. He told the Mail & Guardian: "In reality there isn't a food shortage in the world, rather there is a problem of food distribution. If the developing countries are unable to buy food from developed countries because it is too expensive, how will they be able to buy GM seed?"