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The low-down on GM food

Get the low down on GM foods... the answer for world hunger or just another way for large international companies to control world food production.

by: Wendy Knowler | 20 Sep 2007

What is GM-food?
GM are foods in which the genetic make-up has been anipulated directly in order to replicate the desired gene, and give the foods special characteristics, such as making them resistant to weedkillers or insects. Insect-resistant maize, for example, is modified by inserting a bacterium gene that produces toxins and acts as an insecticide. Others have a gene that makes them indestructible when sprayed with certain herbicides.

For or against GM
The pro-GM faction – mainly GM seed producers such as Monsanto, Du Pont, Dow, Bayer and Syngenta – say GM increases crop yields, reduces farming costs and increases food security for developing countries.

Environmental bodies worldwide argue that this is a dangerous experiment with health and could have a disastrous effect on the environment.

They say it violates a natural organism's intrinsic value; that modified genes are being spread through pollination; and that it allows a few giant corporations to control food production worldwide, forcing farmers to buy new, expensive, patented seed from them year after year.

Many countries, including most of Europe, most Australian states, Angola, Sudan, Venezuela and Zambia, have declared themselves GM-free zones, and refuse to grow GM crops. So strong is the anti-GM lobby in the UK that the industry has abandoned all attempts to get GM seeds approved for growing in that country.

South Africa, on the other hand, has adopted the crops wholeheartedly. Since 1997, South Africa has grown GM crops – including maize, soya beans and cotton – commercially. The Government does not require GM crops to be separated from non-GM crops during production, processing and distribution, which means there's no way of tracking GM food from farm to plate; if one strain caused adverse effects in humans or animals, it would be virtually impossible to trace the offending variety.

How can you tell which foods contain GM ingredients?
The short answer is, you can't. 'The Regulations Relating to the Labelling of Foodstuffs Obtained Through Certain Techniques of Genetic Modification', do not require GM foods currently imported, marketed or sold in South Africa to indicate the presence of GM ingredients on the label.

The Department of Health says that compulsory labelling would increase the cost of food and is not practical, because GMOs could be in 30 000 products that contain maize and soya.

By contrast, the European Union recently agreed that all GM derivatives in food, as well as GM ingredients, must be labelled.

Which ingredients are likely to be GM?
The following foodstuffs in processed food: soya and corn derivatives, soya oil, soya-protein isolate, soya lecithin, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose and maltodextrin.

* This article was published in 2005 – for more current information on GM legislation and developments in SA go to

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