Government should introduce a bill to require mandatory labelling on all genetically-modified food

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Friday): Two recent news items should attract the concern of Malaysians: firstly, the heart-felt appeal by the co-founder of one of Silicon Valley’s top technology companies, Sun Microsystems Inc chief scientist Bill Joy that scientific advances without ethics may be ushering humanity into a nightmare world where supersmart machines force mankind into extinction.

Joy’s fears focus on three areas of technology undergoing incredibly rapid change:

The second item is the news two days ago about the successful cloning of a litter of pigs by the same Scottish firm which cloned Dolly the sheep four years ago, hailed as another major advance in xenotransplantation or the transfer of animal organs to humans.

Furthermore, human cloning may come sooner than the public  expects. The first cloned human embryo was  produced nearly nine months ago in Massachusetts but was destroyed by researchers after 12 days as  the United States bans human cloning.
Xenotransplantation pairs two highly controversial  technologies - cloning and the use of animals to create biological materials for human medicine.   The goal of xenotransplantation is not unlike that of "pharming," in which the genetic material of animals is altered to stimulate the growth of  certain chemicals. Those chemicals then are extracted for use in human patients. But xenotransplantation takes the idea significantly  further.

Malaysians and the Malaysian Parliament would have to address the ethics of these scientific advances.

While the Malaysian Parliament need not grapple immediately with the issues of cloning and xenotransplanation, it should not delay in addressing the problems of genetically-modified (GM) food.

Last week, Consumers International launched a campaign on GM foods at its regional office in Penang, calling on the government to impose mandatory labelling on all GM food.

Malaysian MPs should support this campaign as many countries, including Great Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Spain, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Greece, New Zealand and Japan already require genetically engineered food to be labelled.

Mandatory labelling of GM foods should be regarded as a basic consumer right to enable consumers to make informed choices as it is still to be established whether genetically engineered food is harmful or  whether it is safe. However, scientists have raised concerns about genetically engineered food. These concerns include the risks of increased exposure to allergens, decreased nutritional value, increased toxicity and increased antibiotic resistance.

In addition, scientists have raised concerns about the ecological risks associated with genetically engineered food. Some of those risks include the destruction of species, cross pollination that breeds new weeds that are resistant to herbicides and increases in pesticide use over the long-term.

For these reasons, the government should introduce a bill in Parliament to require mandatory labelling on all genetically-modified food.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman