Vietnam has issued a decree to tighten regulations on genetically-modified organisms and products, but experts said the measure will do little to prevent the possible harmful consequences of GMO foods.
Under the Decree 69 that will take effect on August 10, all products containing more than five percent genetically-modified materials would need to be labeled as such. The packaging must also contain information about the origins and usage of the products.
The Ministry of Health is in charge of licensing GMOs qualified for being used as human food under either one of two criteria: it must either be approved by an authorized committee as having no uncontrollable risks to human health, or it must be under legal use by at least five developed countries.
Another committee will be set up to approve GMOs that can be used as animal feed to advise the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on issuing such licenses. However, GMOs that have been approved as safe for human food and those being legally used as animal feed by at least five developed countries could get a license directly from the ministry without having to seek for the committee approval.
The decree also stipulates that all GMO studies in Vietnam must be conducted in licensed laboratories approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
In 2001, the central government invested in research on GMO rice, cabbage, corn, papaya and flowers, but none of the products tested have been brought into mass production in Vietnam yet. Several laboratories have also received government funding to expand GMO research, including those at the Institute of Biotechnology, Agricultural Genetics Institute, Institute of Tropical Biology and the Mekong Delta Rice Research Institute.
On June 25, four days after Decree 69 was signed, an editorial on the Communist Party website raised concerns over the use of GMOs.
"With GMO foods, people are suspecting it could cause side effects like allergenic reactions, antibiotic resistance and toxins that could cause long-term impacts," the editorial said, adding that the issue should be approached carefully to eliminate risks.
GMOs and products containing these materials have met even stronger opposition from Greenpeace "“ an independent global campaigning organization that acts to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.
"If it's true that only the products containing above five percent of GMO would need to be labeled as such in Vietnam, then it's a grave error and falls much behind European legislation [of 0.9 percent]," Maciej Muskat,
Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace International, told Thanh Nien Weekly via email.
He claimed that it can't be said whether or not this regulation will ensure safety for the consumers because the safety of genetically-engineered (GE) crops as a food for animals and humans is unknown and the testing regimes are inadequate because they do not look closely enough for any unintended compounds.
"Even if a regulatory agency says a particular GMO is safe, there are still concerns, especially regarding long-term health effects."
"We also oppose all patents on the genes and DNA of plants, animals and humans as we believe life is not an industrial commodity. Ecological agriculture, working with nature instead of against it, is the solution," he said.
But he said that confining GMOs solely to the research labs as stipulated in the Decree 69 is the right move. "However, Vietnamese citizens should be aware that research usually precedes the release into the environment (i.e. field trials) which unavoidably leads to the contamination of other crops," he warned.
Muskat also stressed that Greenpeace opposes any release of GMOs into the environment.
"We demand GMOs should not be released into the environment, including field trials, as they are harmful to biodiversity and the environment. GM crops cause contamination of conventional and organic crops," he said.
"Judging from the first 15 years since commercialization of GMOs in the US, GM crops are just the latest agro-technological development that will lead to massive reduction of biodiversity and depletion of natural resources like soil, water, and habitats."