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GM food labelling law a must: ESCP

Lina Abdul Rahman
Filed on May 9, 2004

SHARJAH - The Emirates Society for Consumer Protection (ESCP) is urging the country's relevant authorities to amend the existing food labelling law to include a statute concerning genetically modified (GM) food labelling, according to an ESCP official.

"A wide selection of genetically modified crops are available in the UAE market such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, rice and some other crops. People are buying them without knowing that scientists are still studying their effects on human health and have not yet proven whether or not they cause some harmful effects on health," Engineer Hassan Al Katheiri, Chairman of the ESCP, told Khaleej Times.

Eng. Al Katheiri noted that the genetically modified food labelling law already exists in all European countries, and that Saudi Arabia is considered to be the only Arab country that is so far implementing it. He is, however, hopeful that the GM food labelling law will soon be implemented in the UAE as consumers should be aware whether the products they purchase are genetically modified or not.

Elaborating on the definition of genetically modified plants, he said, "Genetically modified plants are those that have been genetically altered to improve resistance to diseases caused by insects or viruses, and to increase tolerance towards herbicides or extreme weather condition."

Attributing consumers lack of awareness to unlabelled products, Eng. Al Katheiri explained, "Majority of consumers are unaware that some of the products that they buy are genetically modified, and this is attributed to food labels which lack a number of important details. As a consumer-oriented society, I think people have the basic right to know the nature and contents of the product before making a choice whether or not to purchase them. Consumers should not be deceived by concealing valuable facts from them."

He added, "So far, there is no significant scientific evidence that GM crops cause harm to our health, but the absence of correct food labelling with genetically modified food should not deprive the consumers' right to know that the transplantation of genes from an animal to a plant and vice versa might increase the chances for people to develop allergies, or even worsen the health conditions of those suffering from allergies."

Eng. Al Katheiri noted that opponents of genetically modified food are concerned about the health risks and threats to the environment as there has not been adequate studies to prove its safety and that it will not harm living species. However, a majority of the food producers are supporting the use of genetically modified food as it increases yield, lowers costs, prevents dehydration, increases the nutrition values and decreases the need for chemicals.

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