Bahrain shops to get GM foods
Manama, December 23, 2008
Genetically modified food could soon be on the shelves in Bahrain's shops. The country is gearing up to test GM foods, so it is ready when they hit the market, a senior official declared yesterday.
It is 'only a matter of time' before such foods make an appearance in Bahrain and authorities do not want to be caught off guard, said Health Ministry public health director Dr Khairya Moosa.
'These are already widely available in several parts of the world, but when they are actually available here, we need to be prepared to handle their testing,' she told the first Arab conference on food safety, at the Gulf Hotel's Gulf International Convention Centre.
The three-day conference has been organised by the Bahrain Centre of Studies and Research, in co-operation with the Arab Centre for Nutrition, under the patronage of Health Minister Dr Faisal Al Hamer.
It aims to identify the reality of food contamination and food safety in the Arab world and to discuss modernising food control systems legislation.
'Food safety is our prime concern and we will take all steps that are necessary to ensure that proper and safe food reaches the consumer,' said Dr Moosa, speaking on behalf of Dr Al Hamer.
'Since GM foods are food items that have had their DNA changed through genetic engineering, we have to have the technology and expertise to test them.
'Unlike conventional genetic modification that is carried out through conventional breeding, GM foods were first put on the market in the early 1990s and, since then, the most common modified foods are soybean, corn, canola, and cotton seed oil, which are widely consumed in Bahrain.'
She said, for example, a typical GM food could be a strawberry that has to survive in cold climates.
'Therefore, the producer would get its DNA altered so it could survive in the frost,' said Dr Moosa.
'They would take DNA from a frost-resistant cell and transfer it into the strawberry cell genes. Therefore, the cells of the strawberry are now frost resistant and will survive the frost, so the farmer does not lose money.
'All this makes commercial sense in this highly-modern and advanced world.'
Though many major controversies surround GM crops and foods, these commonly focus on the long-term health effects for anyone eating them, environmental safety, labelling and consumer choice, intellectual property rights, ethics, food security, poverty reduction, environmental conservation, and potential disruption or even possible destruction of the food chain, said Dr Moosa.
'We propose to shortly start training our people on such testing and future programmes include state-of-the-art testing laboratories and equipment,' she said
She said Bahrain is already at the helm of a GCC-wide effort to stringently test all food items that arrive into the country and the region.
'The ministry has a responsibility, but the consumers and the manufacturers also have one.
'We are all in it together and together we can help make the country safe as far as food is concerned,' said Dr Moosa.
The problem of food poisoning is universal and Bahrain is not an exception.
'We are doing our best to eliminate it but we cannot do it completely,' she said.
In the five years ending 2007, 1,116 food poisoning cases were reported in Bahrain while this year, so far, 294 cases have been recorded.
'We can attribute this to the increasing population or to people's bad food habits, but there has been a large percentage increase this year,' said Dr Moosa.
She said more efforts would be made to control the problem.
The conference brings together 12 Arab countries and more than 400 scholars and specialists in the field of food and nutrition in the Arab world.-TradeArabia News Service