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GMO labelling: SAZ to unveil standard, but. . .

GMO labelling: SAZ to unveil standard, but. . .

June 8, 2015 Business

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
LAST year Mr Bothwell Chidziwa picked up a packet of cereal from a supermarket shelf in Gwanda, convinced he was buying stuff produced organically.

But the 34 year-old soon found out that he was bitterly wrong.

“I bought a 750g box of Bokomo Corn Flakes from a supermarket here in Gwanda and later discovered at home that it was written, ‘genetically modified maize’. I was shocked,” Mr Chidziva complained in an interview.

Falling industrial and agriculture production has forced Zimbabwe to depend on imports for 60 percent of its food requirements.

As a result, many unmarked products extracted or made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have found their way onto supermarket shelves.

But with Government unable to monitor its anti-GMO bio-safety laws effectively, the consumer has become the biggest loser.

Those importing and retailing genetically modified foods are doing so without labelling the products, or the labelling is tucked away at some hidden corner, depriving consumers the freedom to make choices based on the provision of correct information.

Now, the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) working together with the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe have come up with a draft national standard for the labelling of GM based food or feed.

“The draft standard applies to voluntary labelling and advertising of food and feed (domestic and or imported availed to Zimbabwean consumers for free or cash) that are produced from or containing ingredients produced from genetic modification; or consisting/containing GMOs; irrespective of whether the food/feed contains DNA or protein,” said Ms Romana Marunda, manager standard development and information at SAZ.

SAZ will solicit public and expert opinion on the proposed draft at a workshop set for early July in Harare.

Ms Marunda said the standard will, however, not apply to products from animals fed with genetically modified foods or fed with products containing ingredients produced from genetic modification or containing GMOs and medicinal products for human and veterinary.

Mr Chidziwa involuntarily consumed the cereal, aware that engaging the supermarket over this “shocker” was a waste of time, but has since stopped buying the same.

“I was not ready to consume GMOs,” he said.

“There is so much we do not understand that’s been said about such kind of foods.”

Genetically modified foods are widely considered unsafe for human consumption, with a recent report from the World Health Organisation saying they caused cancers, and increased the risk of an array of illnesses.

GMs are produced from seed that has been doctored in laboratories, supposedly making them resistant to disease.

There is little doubt people want to know what it is they are (buying and) eating. That chance is sorely missing for Zimbabwean consumers.

However, with the new standard, consumers will not be the only ones to benefit, says National Biotechnology Authority chief executive Dr Jonathan Mufandaedza. It will also enhance competitiveness for those exporting manufacturers keen to satisfy market needs for GM-free produce.

“We already issue out permits to Zimbabwean companies certifying the production of non-GM products. The new standard becomes a competitive labelling advantage for the exporter,” Dr Mufandaedza said on Friday, by telephone.

“The purpose of the standard is to bring in the objectivity of labelling. Labelling is not just putting on a sticker. It has to be authentic. There must be an agreement between the label and the content.

“The standard will also speak to the procedures of arriving at the label, the analysis done and the key considerations which one should observe. Consumers want to know the bio-status of food and when you label them, it means you are saying ‘we are aware of the bio-status of the product.’”

As with all SAZ standards, the GM labelling standard is a voluntary one; not mandatory.

But for a nation whose Government has pronounced its policy against GMs publicly, Zimbabwe should be looking beyond voluntary mechanisms to mandatory compliance.

The SAZ/NBAZ standard admits that GM foods are being produced, imported and consumed in Zimbabwe. This is not particularly surprising. It has been known for long.

Over 120 000 tonnes of GM maize were imported from South Africa in the six months to June last year. However, what’s surprising is that Zimbabwe plans to standardise the labelling of GM foods contrary to its own bio-safety laws, unless these laws have been repealed, secretly.

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told a Parliamentary Committee on science and technology in March that imports or the production of GMOs remains banned because Government was uncertain on their risks to human health, environment and agriculture output.

Dr Mufandaedza said it is in the consumer’s interest to know the status of all food in view of Zimbabwe’s non-GMO policy.

With unambiguous labelling, GM foods will be consumed only by those willing to do so.

There is genuine concern of contamination in products such as chicken, cereal and potatoes from South Africa or Brazil, producers of genetically modified foods.

God is faithful.

jeffgogo@gmail.com

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