Religious groups worried about GM foods (19/1/2006)

Religious groups worried about GM foods
By Wendy Jasson da Costa
IOL (South Africa), January 19 2006

South Africa's faith communities are planning to petition major food retailers to label all genetically modified foods, according to Bishop Jeff Davies from the SA Council of Churches.

The labelling of GM, or genetically modified, food is not compulsory in the country.

"We believe it is essential to know what we are eating. We hope you, in parliament, will help us," he told members of parliament on Wednesday.

Davies was one of many representatives from religious and civil society organisations, including small-scale farmers, environmental groups and lobbyists, who participated in parliament's public hearings on its Genetically Modified Organisms Amendments Bill.

Davies told MPs that although he, like the government, supported biotechnology it was necessary to affirm the precautionary principles in the Bill.

"Many scientists and biotechnologists are very naughty," he said. "They're not making a distinction between selective breeding, which human beings have been doing for millennia, and genetic engineering."

He said all faith communities - Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims - had the same concerns regarding genetically modified products.

"With genetic engineering, we are tampering with the structures of life that have taken millions of years to evolve and we have the arrogance to think that we can improve on them in 10 years... to transfer a gene from one species into another."

Referring to the impact of GMOs on religion Davies said: "You know we have kosher and halaal food. How, then, do we define a tomato with a fish gene?"

He said he knew that many people were concerned about genetic modification because humans were playing God without knowing what the consequences would be.

He also called for a moratorium on the use and importation of genetically modified food until SA itself had tested the products and not just accepted the word of Monsanto - one of the world's biggest providers of genetically modified seed - that it was safe.

According to Davies, many people, especially those in the business community, would "deride" environmentalists for their concern, but he said it was important that "we should do things the African way and not try to emulate Big Brother in America".

Pick 'n Pay's deputy chairperson David Robins welcomed the call for labelling on Wednesday, saying the supermarket chain would support the campaign 100% so that customers would know what they were eating.

Robins said Pick 'n Pay had not "critically investigated" every item on its shelves to determine whether it contained GMOs, but soya was a product that would not qualify.

Earlier this week, chain store Woolworths said: "All Woolworths products that contain ingredients that could be derived from GM crops are labelled. The ingredient in question is marked with an asterisk which, in turn, refers to a statement at the bottom of the ingredient label that reads as follows: "*May be genetically modified".

The group said it had undertaken to remove or replace ingredients derived from GM crops wherever possible.


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