The African Centre for Biosafety reports that South African consumers have just won a hard-earned victory, regarding the labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods.
GM crops have been grown in South Africa since 1999. However most consumers are largely unaware that their staple food, maize (or corn), has been genetically modified. GM soya and cotton are also grown in South Africa, and a significant amount of foodstuffs on the supermarket shelves now contain GM components or ingredients.
Up until now, the food industry in South Africa has taken the view that current GM labelling laws are ambiguous and do not apply to processed foods.
On Wednesday, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) published draft amendments to regulations governing the labeling of genetically modified food in South Africa. According to these draft amendments, all imported or locally produced food which contains 5% or more genetically modified components or ingredients, must now be labelled as "contains genetically modified ingredients or components".
Director of the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), Mariam Mayet, congratulated the DTI and also praised the role played by consumers in demanding their right to know. Mayet says "the proposed amendments convey the clear intention of government that the food industry must now step up to the plate and label their products."
Mayet did, however, express disappointment that labelling will only apply if there is 5% or more GM content. This threshold is reportedly based purely on commercial considerations and not on any scientific measure.
SAFeAGE is an organisation that has fought for mandatory labelling of GM food to be included in the Consumer Protection Act. Fahri Hassan of the organisation said that he was "delighted that finally, the best interests of the public have been considered and that consumers have won the right to know what they are eating".
Currently the draft amendments are open for public comment up to November 9, 2012. Expectations are that the GM industry will continue to lobby for weaker regulations and give excuses as to why their products should not be labelled.