Updated 15 September 2014

Woolies to reduce number of GM labelled products by 50%

Woolworths has been known for their commitment to remove or replace ingredients from genetically modified crops in their food.

Now they are taking it a step further by reducing the current number of products that actually do contain ingredients from genetically modified (GM) in private label foods by 50% over the next year

Currently only 5.3 percent of Woolworths private label foods contain ingredients from potential GM crop sources. That should drop to less than 2.7 percent by September 2015. 

In 1999 Woolworths announced a policy on genetically modified ingredients and in 2000 introduced GMO labeling so that customers could make informed buying decisions.

Every ingredient is checked back to source, and where we cannot guarantee that it was not derived from a GM crop, the ingredient is clearly labelled “may be Genetically Modified (GM)”.

Maize, soybeans and cotton are the only GM crops allowed to be grown in South Africa.

Woolworths also offers alternatives, such as certified organic products, which are guaranteed free of GMOs, and of course currently no fruit and veg grown commercially in SA contain GMOs.”

South Africa is the eight largest producer of GMOs in the world, and GM labelling legislation has been in place since 2004. The Consumer Protection Act (R.293 of 1 April 2011:  Regulations – Regulation 7 Product labelling and trade descriptions: genetically modified organisms) came into force in 2011, and requires all food containing 5% or more GMO content to be labelled. GMOs:

What are the issues with GMOs?

GMO stands for "genetically modified organisms", and foods that contain ingredients with GMOs are considered GMO foods. GMOs are created in the laboratory when scientists isolate genes that are responsible for certain traits in one plant and insert the gene into another plant or add genes from non-plant organisms to a plant.

Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, plants and fish.

The key areas of controversy are:

1. Whether or how GM food should be labelled;

2. The role of government regulators;

3. The effect of GM crops on health and the environment;

4. The effect on pests and pesticide resistance;

5. The impact of GM crops for farmers; and

6. The role of GM crops in feeding the world population;

7. Ownership of the food supply chain (Seed patents).

The arguments AGAINST GMOs focus on:

1. Safety

The issue of safety of GMOs has been a concern since researchers first introduced them commercially in 1996 in the USA and in 1998 in South Africa. Government support for GM implies that there are no safety issues.

2. Effects on small farmers

Some of the arguments against the use of GMOs include industrialisation of agriculture, pushing out the small farmers in favour of mass production of crops due to legalities surrounding intellectual property and ownership of seeds. It should be noted that it’s not only GMOs that contribute to these issues.

3. Potential “superbugs” and “superweeds”

Among critics' most serious charges are GMOs' potential to stimulate the rise of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" and pesticide-resistant "superweeds" that require the use of increasingly powerful drugs and hazardous chemicals.

4. Possible “contamination” of other plants

One major concern is keeping genetically modified crops from entering the environment, where their DNA could mingle with the DNA of other plants. The effect that genetically modified DNA could have on other plants is currently unknown.

5. Potential long-term risks

Opponents of genetically modified food claim risks have not been adequately identified and managed. Some health groups say there are unanswered questions regarding the potential long-term impact on human health from food derived from GMOs, and propose mandatory labeling or a moratorium on such products.

The arguments IN FAVOUR of GMO focus on:

1. Faster growth and maturity of plants

Supporters of GMO argue that genetically modified plants and animals that grow and mature faster with greater disease resistance and bigger yields are a strong argument in favour of GMO cultivation.

2. No risks to people and environment

There is significant scientific consensus that food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk than conventional food. No reports of ill effects have been proven in the human population from ingesting GM food.

3. Environmental benefits There are environmental benefits to GM crops. Some GMO plants, for example, can be "designed" with a built-in resistance to insect pests. These plants need fewer pesticides, making them a greener choice for farmers than non-GMO crops that require pesticides.

Plants and animals can also be genetically improved to grow in poorer soils, colder temperatures, drier climates and other less-than-favourable conditions.

These GMO crops could have more nutrients and could also need less-intensive industrial processing.

Proponents argue these are important benefits in a world where more than 7 billion people now need to be fed.


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