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Mon, Oct 16, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Genetically modified foods need labeling

FRANKENFOODS The presence of genetically modified foods on the local market has raised alarms about the need to label the products for consumers

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

A local consumer rights NGO dropped a bomb yesterday by announcing the results of tests that point to the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in foods available on the local market.

The Environmental Quality Protection Foundation (EQPF, 環境品質文教基金會) found that genetically modified foodstuffs available include certain instant noodle products and hamburgers sold at certain fast food franchises. In response to its findings, the foundation urged the Department of Health (DOH, 衛生署) to immediately launch a survey of all genetically modified foods on the market to properly label the products.

Advocates of genetically modified foods say the transgenetic technique enhances the original organism with traits it wouldn't naturally possess and can thereby increase agricultural productivity. Some have hailed the technology as a solution to world hunger.

Opponents, however, say the amount of food in the world is sufficient and that starvation in many countries is caused by poverty that prevents the acquisition of foods. They also argue that biotechnology corporations are more interested in profit than helping people in need.

Critics also say some genetically modified foods pose risks to human health. For example, they argue that, by eating genetically modified foods, people will ingest genetic materials or becteria that were never previously eaten by human beings, which may threaten some with unusual or unknown allergies.

Some also worry about genetic engineering's impact on the ecosystem. For instance, scientists have found that the lecithin gene inserted in potatoes to reduce aphid attacks on the vegetable caused significant reductions in the life expectancy and reproductive capabilities of ladybirds.

The foundation yesterday said the McDonald's McChicken sandwich and the hamburger at Japanese fast food franchise Mos Burger contain GMOs.

Food companies that sell instant noodle products found to contain GMO ingredients were Uni-President Enterprises Corporation (統一企業), Vedan Enterprise Corporation and Weilih Foods (維力食品).

The foundation revealed the results of its first test for GMOs in the local market in late August. The group found that all sampled soybean products contained GMO ingredients.

Eric Liou (劉銘龍), secretary-general of the foundation, said that although the DOH has said it would set up a labeling system for GMOs, it has not yet proceeded with any investigation to uncover the amount of genetically modified foods on the market. Liou, therefore, suggested the government initiate a general survey to effectively keep track of food companies as it implements the upcoming labeling system.

The foundation further urged the government to register and label imported fodder for GMO content.

"The government should have complete information to fully monitor GM ingredients in all agricultural products and raw food materials imported, since knowing their sources is also vital," Liu said.

The concerns have been raised, while Kraft Foods, the largest US food manufacturer, was recently found to be using the gene-altered corn StarLink in its taco shells. The product has not been approved for food use because it is a possible allergen.

Chen Jen-hung (程仁宏), deputy secretary-general of the Consumers' Foundation (消費者基金會), agreed that labeling was necessary for GMO foods. Chen said consumers should have access to information about foods they eat so that they can choose whether or not to eat genetically modified foods. Chen said manufactures should stop importing GMOs before the safety of such products can be guaranteed.

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