China’s rejection of Cameron GM fruits a wake-up call

Cameron Highlands fruits. (Photo: N.Hayter. Source: https://tinyurl.com/y82n3zj6)

Malaysia is now getting the brunt of its earlier decision to open its doors to genetically modified (GM) seeds and feeds.

“The recent rejection by China of the GM Cameron fruits should serve as a wake-up call to the Malaysian Government to rethink its GMO policy,” remarked Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of PANAP upon hearing the news.

Rengam, giving a short background on the issue said that “GMOs were introduced in the 1990s and there was a heated scientific debate for at least a decade for its safe use. In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for moratorium on genetically manipulated foods after finding that there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects.“

Among the health concerns are the mounting evidence that GM food may cause multi-organ dysfunction. It may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal and reproductive effects, and may alter hematological, biochemical and immunologic parameters.  The GM’s genetic material has been reported to survive processing and has been detected in the blood, organs, and milk of the test consumers.

Quite puzzled, Rengam exclaimed “I really wonder why despite the move by Europe, Japan, Brazil and North America to clear GM food from their shelves, and countries like France who stopped GM importation after new findings raised safety concerns, our country continued to accept GM crops and products in our market.”

The country’s regulatory framework with regards to GMO covers pre-market approval, enforcement and post-market monitoring. The Biosafety Act 2007 regulates the release, importation, exportation and contained use of living modified organisms (also known as GMOs) and the release of products of such organisms. The Food Regulations as amended in 2010 enforces GMO labeling for products with more than 3% GM ingredients.

The recently concluded Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional meeting on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition in Asia-Pacific, found Malaysian representatives from both government and the academe encouraging the use of GM crops to address food insecurity. This is contrary to the direction adopted by Hungary, Senegal, Cameroon and the Netherlands.

Hungary’s Ministry of Agriculture Deputy State Secretary Katalin Tóth’s statement clarifies its country’s position:

“Our scientific studies have proved that several current GM crop varieties have negative effects on the environment and the risks of the cultivation of these plants have not been adequately assessed. We think that the hypothetical advantages of some ‘improved’ GMO seeds are overshadowed by risks to human health and the environment, which are not yet known to their full extent.”

It is noteworthy that in December 2016, China’s biggest grain-producing province, Heilongjiang, passed a five-year ban on growing, processing and selling GM crops as prompted by a survey showing more than 90% of respondents in the province object to GM crops. The province would like to protect its advantage as a producer of non-GMO soybean for the domestic and international market. China is also approving fewer new biotech crops for import for its animal feed industry.

As the non-GMO crops are of high-demand in the market, much more so are the organically-grown food crops. Since 2014, PANAP has been highlighting the issue of food safety in Cameron Highlands when nine of organochlorine residues were detected in surface water of Bertam and Terla River. Among the pesticides residues detected were aldrin, heptachlor epoxide, endosulfan II, endosulfan sulfate, methoxychlor, endrin ketone, 4,4′-DDE, beta and gamma HCH. Endosulfan is banned in 75 countries and is for global phase-out because of acute toxicity and endocrine disruption. Aldrin and endrin are persistent organic pollutants which the Stockholm Convention hopes to eliminate.

Contrary to PANAP’s call for the state to take action on the pesticide contamination issue, the government’s step towards GMO adoption further aggravated the problem. This is because most GM crops are herbicide resistant and thus, increases the use of herbicides like glyphosate. Marketed under the trademark RoundUp, glyphosate has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a probable human carcinogen.

“Dr Wan Junaidi’s order to stop the planting of GM fruit trees and to closely monitor the GMOs entry into the country sets us into the right direction,” Rengam concluded. #

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TAKE ACTION >> Urge governments to implement a one-kilometer or more pesticide-free buffer zone around schools.

For more information: Milagros S. Serrana, Pesticide Programme Science Officer, PANAP  mila.serrana@panap.net

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