GM Foods Not Labeled on Supermarket Shelves

March 12, 2009 Updated: March 12, 2009

DUBAI—Genetically modified foods are being sold on United Arab Emirates (UAE) supermarket shelves without proper labeling, a senior official has said.

Khalid Sharif Al Awadhi, head of the food control section at Dubai Municipality, said that the authorities would follow international conventions on labeling when they are drawn up.

“We follow international standards on regulation whenever new food technologies are imported,” he told The Epoch Times on the sidelines of the Dubai International Food Safety Conference.

“Currently it is not mandatory for GM foods to have different labeling.”

According to a 2007 study by Greenpeace, around 40 percent of the food in the UAE is believed to contain GM materials.

Al Awadhi, however, denied the figure. “We don’t know exactly how much but it can’t be as much as 40 percent. GM foods are only found in certain products like grain and beans. That only makes up a small proportion of the foods available.”

GM foods are those which have typically had their DNA changed through genetic engineering to make them resistant to pesticides.

It is unclear whether GM foods are detrimental to long-term health and several scientists have accused food manufacturers of using the population as “guinea pigs.”

When initial studies suggested that GM foods could harm the intestines of animals, big brands such as Nestle and McDonalds announced that they would no longer source GM materials.

“None of our products imported into the UAE contain GM materials,” Pascal Zbinden, group leader at the Nestle Research Center, told The Epoch Times.

“We are no longer doing research in that area.”

In Europe, laws have been implemented which make it mandatory for manufacturers to label food if there are traces of GM content above 0.9 percent.

The move caused an outcry at the time from the U.S. food industry, the largest group of GM producers in the world.

“A lot of countries import American products and most GM products originate from the U.S.,” said Arnaud Apoteker, the Greenpeace campaigner who carried out the UAE study.

Most lobbyists argue that fewer people would buy GM foods if they had a choice. A recent survey by the U.K.’s Co-op supermarket group, found that 55 percent of consumers were against GM foods and a further 38 percent were yet to be convinced of its benefits.

Al Awadhi said that Codex Alimentarius, the regulatory joint venture between the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), is currently debating whether mandatory labeling should apply to GM foods.

“When they make a decision we will also introduce regulation,” he said.