Malaysian researchers have concluded that mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods is justified, based on an extensive review of international scientific and legal frameworks related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Genetically modified organisms may offer arguable societal and economic benefits, but some fear they may also pose hazards to humans, animals, plants and the environment.
So when Malaysia introduced mandatory labelling laws for GM foods, researchers at University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) began to study whether such laws were justified, using scientific, legal and policy documents in North America, the European Union and Asia. The study became an in-depth review of literature, legislation and labelling regimes worldwide.
Genetic modification -- the ability to take genes from one species and splice them into another to create organisms with new properties -- could be one of the biggest advances in recent science. Yet when debating whether GMOs are desirable, pro and con sides often speak past each other such that economic points "for" do little to address environmental points "against" and vice versa.
Under a concept known as "substantial equivalence," GM food proponents say they are functionally the same and thus as safe as their natural counterparts, with no need for special labelling.
The UKM study found that not everyone is persuaded. Opponents worry that, with the potentially huge amounts of money at play, national scientific and legal frameworks may have been somehow tilted to be industry-friendly.
The research team argues that the "substantial equivalence" concept currently lacks adequate scientific backing. As long as safety remains incompletely proven, legislation should acknowledge potential hazards as well as perceived pluses, and set up ways to manage them.
While not writing off biotechnology or GM foods, the researchers say that, until more is known, it's prudent to acknowledge and address uncertainties about their effects on people, animals and plants. Mandatory labelling fits within that approach, even if it adds costs. In the long-term, they say, it could prevent unexpected harm. In the meantime, it can educate consumers and allow those with religious, medical or social objections to avoid GMOs.
In that context, the team says Malaysia's mandatory labelling legislation for GMOs is justified. As long as some producers or manufacturers fear negative consumer reactions to labelled GM products, voluntary labelling would be inconsistent at best. People have a right to know what kind of food they eat, concludes the team, and that justifies Malaysia's GMO labelling laws.
Cite This Page: