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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Keeping clear of modified genes

Safe control of GMOs requires adequate legislation, funds, and up-to-date labs
22 September, 2011 - 00:00

Even though Ukraine was considerably late in the introducing of certain regulators for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it nevertheless managed to launch the process, under the previous government. There are heated discussions worldwide concerning foods with GMO ingredients. The supporters of GMO products argue that there is no unambiguous evidence of their harmfulness, whereas their opponents weigh in with their arguments (which are plentiful, by the way). Among the weightiest is the example of Canada, where foods with GMO ingredients are very common. Informing the customers about the presence of GMOs or their curbing has been optional for a long time in Canada. However, over the recent years there have been reports of 50 percent sperm activity drop in teenagers and young men.

As a matter of fact, a number of related regulatory acts are effective in Ukraine now including the Law “On State Bio Security while Creating, Testing, Transporting and Applying of Genetically Modified Organisms,” and special enactments of the Cabinet of Ministers. Now, the producer is obliged to provide information on the presence or absence of GMOs in foods, and label them accordingly. The list of products to be monitored, approved by the Ministry of Health last December, includes soya, corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, tomatoes, melons, rape and a number of other crops, baby foods and the raw materials for their production, etc.

This problem was discussed at the session of the Zhytomyr Reform Club, recently held at the state enterprise Zhytomyrstandartmetrolohia. Its director Vladyslava Khyzhniak noted that the incumbent government had allocated 1.7 million hryvnias for laboratory testing of foodstuffs. Within the framework of this program, the Directory for Consumer Rights Protection picked samples, which were then tested by the enterprise.

However, there is no universal legislative procedure for such tests, including those for GMOs, nor is there a clear-cut regulation as for how often they should be taken. Besides, manufacturers can handpick the samples on their own, so they might just as well be foods from the nearest supermarket.

Natalia Bondarets, director of the department of molecular genetic research at the same enterprise, emphasized that GMOs exceeded the permissible 0.9 percent in the samples of meat products and sausages (in particular, indices 1.7 through 5.7 were recorded). This can be accounted for by the use of genetically modified soya or starch – products which increase the weight of meat products. (However, it should be borne in mind that some researchers deny the possibility of precise identification of GMO content in foods. – Author.) The “risk group” also includes cheese spreads, pet foods and animal fodders (samples revealed GMOs exceeding 5 percent), meat preserves, and tinned corn. Overall, most GMOs are typically found in soya products.

Khyzhniak also noted that besides Zhytomyrstandartmetrolohia, other structures in Ukraine and Zhytomyr oblast also do GMO tests and issue relevant expert conclusions, although they do not have necessary accreditations. Thus the reliability of such tests is called into question. Meanwhile, a new laboratory is open at Zhytomyrstandartmetrolohia, and four isolated cleanrooms in a specialized building with up-to-date equipment were shown to the participants of the meeting. The new lab complies with international standards and is accredited by the National Accreditation Agency of Ukraine. Only the results of tests held by this lab are acknowledged in the region. Since the company runs on a self-supporting basis, the manufacturers who want to have tests done have to pay a fee. The detection of GMOs in products costs 482 hryvnias, while the rate for quantitative analysis is 623 hryvnias. The rates are quite moderate and allow both manufacturers and consumers to be informed about possible risks and ease safety concerns.

Viacheslav Holubovsky, director, Department of consumer policy at Derzhspozhyvstandard (State Inspection for Consumer Rights), also cited some generalized data. According to him, Ukraine still has a lot of problems with the regulations in this sphere compared to the European Union, which has five serious instructions concerning GMOs. Besides, no funds have been allocated by state for relevant tests. Holubovsky sees the above-mentioned 1.7 million hryvnias allotted by the government as the first steps, and expects more to follow. Last year, Derzhspozhyvstandard held a total of 4,700 GMO detection tests at the instance of manufacturers themselves. Excessive content of GMOs was detected in samples provided by 5.6 percent of firms.

The Day asked what could induce the business to give up using genetically modified crops and mass manufacture of GMO-containing products, if apparently great profits are at stake. Holubovsky replied that the legislative framework should be improved, but a whole range of various state agencies are in charge of transgenic organisms problem at present. He also added that manufacturers would have problems stating their claims until the need for the using of GMOs was clearly proved and acknowledged; and since the functions of a negligible three percent of DNA had been examined, GMO supporters would still long have counter evidence to support their cause.

By Valerii KOSTIUKEVYCH, The Day, Zhytomyr