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GM-food regulation creates controversy in Turkey

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/4/2009 12:00:00 AM | SEVİM SONGÜN

A recent regulation on the control of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is criticized by experts as being 'insufficient and imprecise.'

New regulations regarding controls for genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are “insufficient and imprecise,” according to experts.

Activists, meanwhile, are up in arms against allowing genetically modified food, or GM-food, in Turkey, due to the unpredictable results on human health and nature. Some academics say GM-food is not dangerous to health, but the strict rules on GMO in European Union-member countries may even risk Turkey’s candidacy, one academic said.

Regulations on GM-foods are very strict in EU member countries compared to the United States. Measures exist to separate GMO products from conventional and organic products. Six countries including Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg, banned the cultivation of GM-food completely, daily Milliyet reported Wednesday.

Activists fear that recent regulations in Turkey will make it impossible to control the cultivation, importation and consumption of products containing GMOs.

If Turkey implements regulations on agriculture that are against European Union regulations, the regulations may result in a halt in trade between both sides and even risk Turkey’s EU candidacy, said Can Baydarol, an academic.

Activists expected a law to pass on biosecurity issues. However, the government published a regulation on GMOs in the Official Gazette on Oct. 26, explaining that it aims “to protect human health and life, animals’ health and prosperity and consumer interests.”

Environmentalists and some food experts criticize the regulation. Ahmet Atalık, head of the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers’ Istanbul branch, said the regulation puts human and animal health in danger, as well as opening the way for “irreversible change” in nature.

[HH] On behalf of corporations?

The regulation says GM-food should be controlled and should have necessary permission before entering the market. However, it also says that if food or feed contains GMO at rate of minimum 0.9 percent, it will be “treated as GM-food” which means that food or feed containing less than 0.9 percent GMO will not be treated as such.

“I want to consume ‘GMO-free’ products and the regulation does not leave this to my choice. What if I do not want to consume these products even if they have less GMO than the said amount, how will I recognize them?” said Atalık.

Claiming the regulation is “prepared by GMO companies,” Atalık said he believes one of the articles contains proof. “The regulation forbids GMO-free producer companies to mention that it on their products. This does not serve the public good, but the good of GMO corporations,” he said.

Speaking to private CNNTurk channel on Wednesday, Muzaffer Aydemir, the head of Protection and Control Office at the Agriculture Ministry, said the article is in accordance with the Agriculture Act that stipulates there should not be “unnecessary warnings” on food products.

Aydemir said that as controls start it will be clear to the public that the regulations actually “ban GM-food which includes harmful substances.” He said the regulation serves to fill the void until a full law comes into force.

Victor Ananias, the head of Buğday Association, an organization which aims to support ecological life, said the opposite. Ananias told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that the new regulation allows GM-food and only bans it in baby food. “If GM-food is dangerous for babies, then why are they permitted for women who are giving birth?” Ananias said.

Despite harsh criticism and protests from environmentalists, some academics said GM-food is a scientific issue, which critics are “falsely depicting as hazardous.”

Selim Çetiner, an academic from Sabancı University, said there is not a single case in which human health was affected negatively from consuming GM-foods. “This technology is also seen as a solution to hunger,” he said.

“The health aspect of the GMO is exaggerated in Turkey. It has economic and environmental aspects too,” said Ali Esat Karakaya, the former head of the International Union of Toxicology. "Noting that 70-80 percent of processed food consumed in the U.S. contains GMOs," Karakaya said: “Do Americans have any idea about science?”

Karakaya said those speaking about the dangers of GMO are not experts. Scientific institutions such as the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey and universities are still silent on the issue. “Silence allows disinformation to seep into the public sphere,” he said.

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