Protesters fight genetically modified foods

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Protesters against genetically modified food took to Cape Town’s streets this weekend, vowing to boycott retailers that fail to label products containing artificially engineered ingredients.

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Anonymous Cape Town and other concerned locals organised the protest. It started at the Grand Parade in central Cape Town and moved to Parliament.

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It passed a Cape of Good Hope Methodist Church gathering on Darling Street, calling on terror group Boko Haram to release kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls in that country. This was one of two such protests in the city centre on Saturday.

Anonymous did not obtain City of Cape Town permission to protest and instead joined forces with Platinum Workers Support Committee that had a protest permit. The latter’s Shaheed Mohamed said they had permission and wanted to ensure that “all citizens have the right to freedom of expression”.

Anonymous’ protest follows claims released this week that various local white bread companies were not adequately labeling their produces containing genetically modified substances.

Last Thursday, the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) released a research report entitled ‘GM Contamination, Cartels and Collusion in South Africa’s Bread Industry’. It tested white bread and found it “contains high levels of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) soya and that most companies are unashamedly flouting GM labelling laws”.

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Monsanto is a multinational agricultural biotech corporation based in the United States. It produces genetically engineered seeds used to make food.
ACB’s executive director Mariam Mayet said a “small number of unscrupulous cartels control and benefit from the value chains of our staple foods, maize and bread”.

“They have been repeatedly sanctioned for anti-competitive behaviour, have been complicit in saturating our staple food with risky GM ingredients and its associated pesticides and are behind a campaign to undermine proper labelling of GM food and the consumer’s right to know.”

ACB’s statement read: “The nation consumes about 2.8 billion loaves of bread a year, handing over more than R28 billion of their hard-earned cash to a cartel comprising Tiger Brands, Premier Foods, Pioneer Foods and Foodcorp, that controls the wheat-to-bread value chain.”

Its white bread test results showed that level of GM content of soya flour used in white breads sold locally. It found that Checkers used 91,09% GM content in soya flour but this was not indicated on the retailers labeling of the bread.

Woolworths used 85.62% GM content in soya flour while its label stated that the bread “may be genetically modified”.

Spar, Blue Ribbon, Pick n Pay, Albany and Sunbake all used GM content in its soya flour to make white bread but none of the packaging of the bread is labeled to reflect this.

ACB said: “The Consumer Protection Act requires that every ingredient in food products containing 5% or more GM content must be labelled ‘contains GMOs’ or ‘produced using genetic modification.’ The current labels are either misleading, confusing or completely absent, leaving consumers utterly in the dark.”

It said these bread manufacturers were also “lobbying under the aegis of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) to revise and weaken GM labelling regulations”.

ACB in its report said a “chemical used in the production of GM soya, called glyphosate, has been linked to numerous health risks including increased risk of chronic kidney disease, birth defects in humans and animals and spontaneous abortions”.

“Recently, samples of urine and breast milk in the United States showed an accumulation of glyphosate in breast milk… residues of glyphosate can remain in food long after the harvest and South African authorities have scant capacity to monitor these residues in food products derived from GM organisms (GMO).”

One of the retailers, Woolworths, said its “preference has been to remove GMO from our food or label the products containing GMO”.

Its spokesman Neeran Naidoo said it started labeling GMO foods since 1999.
“Woolworths white sandwich bread currently contains significantly less than 1 % soya flour. Woolworths is in the process of investigating sustainable and commercially viable alternatives,” he said.

“Our approach helps customers make the choice that is right for them… We check all ingredients back to source, and where we cannot guarantee that the ingredient was not derived from a GM crop, we label the product as ‘may be genetically modified’.”

Matthew Rohleder, one of yesterday’s protests organisers, said they “don’t want poison in our food”.

“We want to make that message clear. We will boycott retailers that don’t label products with GMO,” he said.

Monique van Vuuren added: “Supermarkets should label GMO products. I have a disease that affects my stomach if I eat wheat products. So labeling is very important to me.”

Christo Lotter, who stopped traffic when he lay down in front of a bus, said consumers “want to know what we are eating”.

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“It’s ridiculous that we are dictated to when it comes to what we put in our bodies. There are health concerns. It’s our right to know what’s in our food,” said Lotter.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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