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South African foods in NZ GE muddle

By Ankush Chibber , 10-Apr-2012
Last updated on 10-Apr-2012 at 19:48 GMT2012-04-10T19:48:45Z

South African foods in NZ GE muddle

An anti-genetically engineered (GE) foods group in New Zealand is protesting infant and gluten-free products imported into the country from South Africa.

According to a statement from GE Free New Zealand, it has received results from GE testing on the products that confirm they significantly exceeded the levels of GE maize and soy that the importer has informed the public of.

The group said it raised a flag about Bokomo's Wheat Free Pronutro and Springbok maize meal in October, but the retailer Countdown Supermarkets, the importer Zebra Zoo foods, and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council, dismissed its concerns.

However, the African Centre for Biosafety did pay heed to its concerns, and sent samples of the products to the independent GMO testing facility at the University of the Free State, the statement said.

“The results revealed that Bokomo's Wheat Free Pronutro was found to contain both 90.36% GE maize and 71.42% GE soya. Springbok maize meal was found to contain 66.18% GE maize. This maize is labelled as free of additives and gluten free,” the group said.

New Zealand's labeling laws exempt point-of-sale foods that contain GE ingredients if they are made on premises and not packaged like the two products imported from South Africa.

 “These are doubly dangerous as animals feeding studies showed that at 33% dietary level of GE maize meal there were significant adverse changes to the liver, kidney, pancreas, GI tract and immune system, as well as reproductive problems, sterility and deaths,” the group said.

The group revealed that it was asking the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to withdraw these products and institute further trait testing and implement diagnostic test development to be used by health professionals.

Katherine Rich, chief executive at the National Functional Genomics Center (NFGC), told FoodNavigator-Asia that it is trying to confirm claims made by the African Centre for Biosafety with its counterparts in South Africa.

“The issue here is GE Free NZ is anti-GM on any terms. The group blindly rejects all science, which supports the safety of GM and the opportunities created, which makes it impossible to engage with them on any reasonable level,” Rich said.

She added that if GE Free NZ had evidence that these foods don’t meet New Zealand food laws, then they are, “welcome to send that information to the MAF, but so far they’ve offered no evidence.”

Rich pointed out that the said products are mainly purchased by expatriot South Africans wanting a taste of home. “The overriding issue is choice. The goods are labeled. Consumers can choose to buy the products or not, but creating the impression that there is something unsafe about the food products is misleading.”

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