“Labeling is not our company policy,” the employee of a Co.opmart supermarket outlet in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 said. “But why do you have to bother about it? Is it because GM foods are better?”
Her question was neither rhetorical nor ironic. Thuy is among many people in Vietnam who are essentially clueless about and indifferent to the worldwide debate raging around genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
While the Vietnamese government enacted last June a law requiring companies to label all food made with more than 5 percent of ingredients derived from genetically modified processes, including additives and flavorings, this has never been enforced. Relevant agencies have said they cannot enforce the law without detailed guidelines.
Not labeling GM foods have environmental activists worried about the possible health risks an unwitting population is exposed to, but it has apparently allayed concerns of the US government that has been providing diplomatic cover for biotech giants to push the GMO agenda worldwide.
A diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks reveals that when the National Assembly, Vietnam’s legislature, started to debate mandatory labeling of GMO food in 2009, the US embassy in Hanoi expressed “strongly voiced US concerns” over the draft law. The embassy aired its worries to the Department of State in Washington.
Activists say the US officials fear that such labeling laws will raise public awareness of the widespread prevalence of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in food, fueling in turn a public debate about the health, environmental and economic consequences of GMOs in the food and farming systems. They say the US official fear that this would ultimately lead to public rejection of GE seeds and a reduced market for GE products, limiting the reach of the aggressive US corporations both biotech companies and food processors.
The activists have lambasted the US government for putting the interests of the seed companies ahead of the interests of consumers. A report released this month by Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based anti-GMO group, corroborates such criticism.
“The report confirms what we have already known for years,” said Jeffrey Smith, author of the bestseller Seeds of Deception and founder of the Iowa-based NGO Institute for Responsible Technology.