17 December 2015
Bangkok – The Independent Committee for Consumer Protection (ICCP) and 158 civil groups today called on the Ministry of Public Health and the Food and Drug Administration to raise the bar for consumer protection in Thailand by improving labeling measures for food and food products containing genetically modified organisms.
Dr. Paiboon Choungthong, Chairman of the Academic for Consumer Protection Network and a member of ICCP, together with representatives from 158 civil groups submitted a letter of proposal to the Minister of Public Health’s Secretary and FDA’s Secretary General demanding better consumer protection regarding GMOs-containing food products. Dr. Paisal Dunkoom, vice secretary of the FDA and Dr. Kittasak Klabdee, advisor to the Minister of Public Health, accepted the letter.
According to Paiboon, Thailand does not provide enough protection for the basic consumer rights i.e. the rights to safety and the rights to choose in case of GMO food products. Currently, GMOs are found not only in soy or corn products. Other food products such as papaya, potato, carrot, wheat flour, or even salmon can contain genetically modified organisms but they are not controlled products under the Ministry of Public Health’s notification No.251. The ministry and the FDA have to act now even without the passing of a bio-safety law which may or may not include processed GM foods.
“Japan, whose measures were followed by Thailand in the drafting of Ministry’s notification No. 251, has now expanded the coverage of controlled GMO food products into GM seeds, GM food products, and GM food additives made from safe microbial. All these must go through evaluation processes to ensure safety for human and all products from plants that are different from natural plants must carry GM labels. GMO tracking measures are also in place to prevent dispersion of GM food that has not been assessed for safety as well as post-market analysis to ensure safety for consumers,” said the chairman.
Saree Aongsomwang, Secretary General of Foundation for Consumers, reiterated that consumer organizations do not support commercial GM plants or the growing of GM plants in the fields. Consumers demand labeling measures for both GM and non-GM products to help them make choices.
“Labels are necessary because they can help consumers make better decisions. If we allow the growing of GM plants, local varieties will be affected and our choices will soon disappear. We will not obstruct the experiments in a closed system but we do not support the growing of GM plant on a commercial level. Right now no one can guarantee the safety of these products, so we as consumers have to take precautions,” Saree said.
Narumon Pohin, scientist at the Foundation for Consumers, said the study on labels of food products with GMOs found that consumers have problem seeing what is written. The font-size of the text informing consumers that the product contains GMOs is too small. Moreover, many products with soy or corn as main ingredients do not state if they contain GMOs or not.
Doctor Kittasak Klabdee said Thailand has been importing GMOs for many years but we still do not have a law on the safety of these products; and labeling law only covers products with soy or corn. However, he said he would take the proposal to the committee meeting to decide on measures and procedures for registration of these products. Issuing a notification should take approximately 3 to 6 months.
“All the measures proposed today are something the ministry plan to do. It should take 3 to 6 months before we have a notification for future registration of GM products. We need to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives as well as consumer groups to make sure we provide the best safety guarantee regarding GM food,” said the adviser to the Minister of Public Health.
Dr. Paisal Dunkoom, vice secretary of the FDA, said the process before the issuance of notification on GM labeling would involve the consideration by the sub-committees on labeling, standards, and food. The sub-committee on food consists of relevant agencies and representatives from consumer protection groups.
“In principle, only safe food can be sold in the market. Labels provide information to consumers so they can make an informed choice. Existing labels include soy, corn, and 22 food items with soy or corn that need to state if the product contains more than 5% of GM ingredients. Personally, I think the number should be lower. However, right now the Department of Medical Science’s test procedure can only find traces of GMOs when they make up of more than 5% of the product.
ICCP and consumer networks propose that the Ministry of Public Health:
- update in the Ministry’s notification No. 271 (B.E. 2545) to better accommodate the current situations:
- with mandatory evaluation and criteria for all food, food, or food additives made with GMOs, such as GM seeds, GM food or food products, or GM additives made form safe microbial.
- with mandatory clear labels for all GMOs containing food, food products, as well as raw materials derived from GM technology
- Conduct post-market monitoring for both GM food and food products that claim to be non-GM.
- Develop a national food alert system where information on unsafe food can be shared with consumer organizations and the public.
- For the drafting of any law on bio-safety in the future, it should be based on the principle of health and environment protection as well as participation from all stakeholders. The Ministry of Public Health should take the leading role in evaluating risks to human health and operate on the prevention basis. The law must set out compensation for people suffering from the consequences of GMOs.
By Sasiwan Parinyart and Smart Sarovat, Foundation for Consumers (FFC)
Photo: Mallisa Kamfoei