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World Consumer Rights Day

GMOs and Consumer Protection


Mazhar Siraj Research Fellow Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP)

CRCP House, Islamabad March 15, 2005

What are GMOs?

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are animals, plants and microorganisms, which have been added with a genetic material from any other organism through a technology called genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is a means to achieve new and desired properties in organisms. The products derived/manufactured from GMOs are called GM products e.g. GM food.
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Currently Available GMOs

Few multinational biotech companies holding the GM market (Monsanto, Novartis, Syngenta, Dupont, Bayer) Main producers: USA, Argentina, Canada, Brazil 35 GMOs on market in European Union GM food: tomato, potato, soybean, corn, wheat
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GMOs in Pakistan

Black market of GMO seeds (corn, wheat, cotton, vegetables) Bt Cotton smuggled from Australia in hand luggage

GMOs prepared in Pakistan: Tomato, sugarcane, soybean, cotton.


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Consumer Rights at Stake (I)

Right to basic needs Right to safety Right to representation

Right to redress

-food security -monopoly over seeds -health risks -anti-biotic resistance -bio-safety guidelines -Traceability -accountability of multinationals
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Consumer Rights at Stake (II)

Right to Information Right to Consumer education

-labeling -awareness -scientific information -threat to biodiversity


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Right to Healthy Environment

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Food Security

Control of multinationals on food crop production (currently, 4 companies controlling 90% of GM crops area) Change in food composition (e.g. GM soy consumed in US has a protein never part of human food) GM food may be culturally unacceptable
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Safety

GM food can cause unpredicted allergies (e.g. soybeans with Brazil-nut gene; Philippine case) Antibiotic resistance marker genes in GM food (e.g. maize engineered by Swiss Novartis) Production of pesticides within GM food (e.g. GM corn with genes capable of producing pesticides)

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Safety Studies (I)


In early 1990s, rats fed on GM food in USA.

Developed stomach lesions. 7 out of 40 died within 2 weeks. FDA concluded that this did not provide demonstration of reasonable certainty of no harm.
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Safety Studies (II)


UK-funded study; rats fed on GM potato

Caused pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune system, partial atrophy of liver, inhibition of brain development

The chief scientist of the study was compulsorily relieved from job after he made the results public
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Safety Study (III)

Rats fed on GM corn Problems with blood cell formation Rats fed on GM soy Problems with liver cell formation Soon after GM soy was introduced in UK, soy allergies increased by 50 percent.
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Safety Studies (IV)


Study on human feeding on soybeans published in February 2004. Foreign gene transferred to gut bacteria; prospects of new protein Transfer of promoter into the gut bacteria; risk of switching on other genes in DNA
Jaffery Smith, Genetically Modified Foods may Pose National Health Risks, newswithviews.com, August 2004.
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Source:

Representation in Biosafety Guidelines (I)

National Bio-safety guidelines in Pakistan prepared in November 1999 by National Biosafety Committee

Only one consultative meeting held in January 2001


Executive meeting held in January 2005 chaired by the Prime Minister

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Representation in Biosafety Guidelines (II)

Community representatives in National Committee on Biosafety of Pakistan; Representation of consumers must


Institutional Biosafety Committee in each organization to work with GMOs Scientific and Technical Review Panel for Biosafety review and risk-analysis
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Redress
Existing legal framework inadequate to deal with GM foods because of

Outdated definitions in Pure Food Ordinance 1960 No standards for GM food in Pakistan

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Information

Insufficient scientific certainty about safety of GM food


GM food mixed with non-GM food

No government policy for labeling

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Consumer Opinion

Global polls show that 58 percent consumers are unwilling to use GM food, if clearly labeled.
Source: Consumers International Africa Office, July 2004
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Consumer Education

Presently, no government initiative for awareness on GMOs


Few civil initiatives

Media reporting few times

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What Ahead

Government should adopt a labeling policy for GM food GMOs should not be released until a consensus of all stakeholders and scientifc certainty is achieved. Consumer representation in institutions under Biosafety guidelines needs to be explicitly included Standards for GM food
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Thank you

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