By Dr. Chris Viljoen
Business Day (South Africa)
It was with interest that I read recent press articles about calls to label modified foods. I was most interested in the comments on the perceived link between the threshold for labelling and the cost of labelling.
First, whether the threshold is 5% or 1%, there is no cost difference in laboratory testing — I should know as I run the GMO Testing Facility that performs routine genetic modification detection in South Africa.
Further, the regulations make provision for companies to assume an ingredient contains genetically modified matter if it was derived from a crop for which there is a genetically modified equivalent being produced in SA, such as maize or soybean. In such a case, no laboratory testing would be required, with no additional cost to the company. Compared to this, companies that want to indicate an ingredient has not been genetically modified would be required to verify this using laboratory tests — but this is no different to what is being practised.
Second, the proposition that genetic modification labelling will increase food costs 10% to 20% is unfounded and based on misinformation. In a comprehensive study in the European Union (EU) it was estimated that the added cost to food of genetic modification labelling ranged from 0,01% to 0,17%, depending on the stringency required. The EU system for genetic modification labelling is considerably more stringent than in SA and from this it is reasonable to suggest that the labelling cost to food would be much lower in SA.
There has never been a documented report that genetic modification labelling has led to a cost increase in food anywhere. What is being implemented in SA can be considered a minimum level compared to genetic modification labelling in other countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, New Zealand and the EU.
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