GMO-free bread for Bay?

[caption id="attachment_39348" align="alignright" width="250"] DAMIEN CLAYTON ...supermarket challenge[/caption]

SOON, it seems, we may be able to welcome the first GMO-free everyday-lunchbox loaf in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Newton Park Superspar are probing the possibility following an approach by Damien Clayton, a young entrepreneur who heads up hydroponics companyGrowGuru.

In his letter to this particular store (it’s just up the road from his office and  where he does most of his shopping) Clayton sketched his challenge. Some consumers would like to avoid GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) but at present it’s practically impossible. GMOs are ubiquitous and labelling is poor or non-existent. What about a change that could lead the way and  empower the community. What about – a GMO-free loaf of bread?

GMO crops are those where at least one gene from a different organism’s DNA has been inserted into the DNA of the receiving crop. This might be to make the crop more resistant to a given bacteria or insect infestation.

Sounds reasonable? Indeed not, says commentator Nassim Taleb, professor of risk engineering at New York University, who local commentator David Pittaway quotes.  “Top-down modifications to the system through GMOs are categorically different from bottom-up ones. There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of arbitrarily taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another. Saying such a product is natural misses the statistical process by which things become ‘natural’.”

The US-based Responsible Technology Institute highlights the environmental concern about the invasive and inextinguishable nature of these engineered organisms and their affect on biodiversity.  However, the other more direct concern for humans is the custom-made herbicide which they always goes hand-in-hand with.

Just last week in France a group of scientists led by University of Caen Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini re-released a study linking NKO3 genetically modified corn treated with Roundup pesticide to cancer in lab rats.

The study was first published in 2012 but the publishing journal then withdrew it due, says the research team, to pressure from the agrochemical industry. Republication  in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe has been achieved “so science can reclaim its rights against the pressures of the industry seeking to suppress whistle-blowers”, the group says.

Back home, the e-debate sparked by Clayton’s initiative brought to the surface  an important report published in May by the Johannesburg-based African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) titled GM Contamination, Cartels and Collusion in South Africa’s Bread Industry.

The ACB report focuses on tests it did on eight different brands of white bread. All but one (Sasko’s white bread loaf) displayed high levels of GM soya content – between 20.5% and 91% of the overall soya flour used. Besides this, none of them displayed the correct labelling.

Soya helps baked products rise, keeps the dough from sticking and helps increase the bread’s volume and softness. The problem, the report notes, is that over 90% of South Africa’s 516000ha of soya is genetically modified.

All this GM soya in South Africa is the Roundup-ready variety from multinational Monsanto. Roundup is a glyphosate-based Monsanto herbicide and Roundup-ready crops have been engineered to withstand liberal applications of Roundup. Consumers ingest residues of glyphosate and the other carrier chemicals needed to make it effective, when they consume products like bread. Monsanto has rejected accusations that these residues are harmful.

But ACB quotes the UN High Commission on Human Rights, the watchdog organisation Mums across America and its own research which shows links to kidney disease, spontaneous abortions and birth defects in human and livestock offspring.  Pittaway quotes further horror findings on glyphosate by the Children of Vietnamese Veterans Health Alliance including leukemia and altered hormone levels.

According to Greenfacts GMOs are banned or significantly restricted in more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and all of the countries in the European Union. But not here.

The debate sparked by Clayton’s simple initiative is perhaps pivotal. This typical R10 loaf is the kind most South Africans use to make the sandwiches which go into their kids’ school lunchboxes. he notes.

I stopped off at the Newton Park Spar and interviewed floor manager Warren Baylis. Headed by their bakery manager, Superspar Newton Park is investigating the proposal, he says. The  one challenge is to pinpoint the precise ingredients in particular in terms of the rising agents which would go into this new loaf and ensure they are all genuinely GMO-free. They’re wrestling with this sticky question right now.

It’s great to see the matter being taken seriously by this store and hopefully the solution can benefit them as a business as well. The challenge then will be to get other supermarkets to match or extend the GMO-free pledge across a range of other products and to ensure proper labelling (which is being largely ignored but which is in fact stipulated in terms of our Consumer Protection Act).