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Civic group wants stricter labeling of GM products

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- While its recent test has found no violations of Taiwan's regulations regarding labeling of products containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients, Consumers' Foundation said Monday that current laws are too loose to properly inform consumers choices.

Under the Act Governing Food Sanitation, products that contain GM ingredients accounting for 5 percent or more of their weight must be labeled as having GM content.

The penalties range from a fine to a shutdown of the violating business, the Taipei-based group noted in a statement.

However, the 5-percent minimum level is high compared with 1 percent in many other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, 0.9 percent in the European Union, and 0.5 percent in Sri Lanka, said Chen Chih-yi, a board member of the non-governmental organization that focuses on consumer rights.

Taiwan introduced the 5 percent minimum level regulation in 2001 and has not amended it since then, despite the development of more sensitive and accurate techniques to measure GM content from ingredients such as soy beans and corn, Chen said.

He urged the relevant Taiwan authorities to adopt the EU standard and called for loose products sold in traditional markets to be brought under the regulation.

At a press conference Monday, the foundation said its check of a sampling of products in September found that there were no violations of the law regarding GM labeling.

Chen, however, said there is no evidence to prove that GM foods are absolutely harmless to human health and the environment.

“Since the risk is uncertain, it's better to clearly label foods with GM content, thus allowing consumers the choice of whether or not to eat them,” he said.

Citing statistics, Chen said soybeans, corn and cotton are the three major GM crops in the world, with the five biggest producers being the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India.

In 2012, 81 percent of the world's total soybean harvest was GM, while for corn the ratio was 35 percent, and for cotton 81 percent, he said.

Most soybeans and corn sold in Taiwan are imported, which means that if they were GM products that would eventually affect human health, Taiwanese would be at high risk since they consume a lot of soybean products such as tofu and soy milk, according to the foundation.

Wang Yu-wen, an assistant professor of agronomy at National Taiwan University, said GM crops have been in existence since 1998 following American scientists' research on increasing yield by growing staples that would be more resistant to insecticides and weedicides.

However, those kinds of GM produce contain toxins that affect the reproduction systems of life forms, Wang said. The toxicity is similar to that of the herbicide “agent orange” that was used by the U.S. military against its enemies during the Vietnam War 1955-1975, he said.

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Samples of non-genetically modified soybeans and corn products tested by the Consumers' Foundation in a recent study are displayed at a press conference held by the foundation in Taipei, yesterday. (CNA)

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