The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released results of tests conducted on seven baby formulas and cereals, by an independent and accredited GM testing laboratory. The results reveal that Purity baby cereals contain extremely high levels of GM content whereas Nestle’s infant formulas and cereal indicate that Nestle appears to be going GM free. Aspen’s infant formulas also indicate GM avoidance. Shockingly, comparisons also reveal that Purity’s GM baby cereals cost 250% more than non-GM cereals, exploding the myth that GM free food is an expensive and impractical luxury.


Purity’s Cream of Maize tested positive as containing 56.25% GM maize; and Purity’s Purity Baby First tested positive as containing 71.47% GM maize. Neither of these baby foods were labeled as containing products derived from genetically modified maize. This is not the first time that Purity’s Cream of Maize cereal tested positive for GM. In 2008, consumer watchdog SAFeAGE revealed the product to contain more than 24% GM maize. “Why has Purity not labeled its products? By failing to label, Purity has acted disingenuously and deprived parents of crucial information about their baby’s nutrition. Adult consumers in SA do not want to eat GM food, much less feed their babies with GM cereals, given that the safety of GM food is highly questionable,” said Zakkiya Ismail, ACB’s Labeling Campaign Co-ordinator. Purity has a long history of producing and marketing jarred baby food in South Africa. Food giant, Tiger Brands owns Purity. Tiger Brands was fined R98.8 million (roughly $10 million) in 2007 by the Competition Commission for colluding with other bread producers in a bread price fixing scandal. Tiger Brand products are ubiquitous and account for around 15% of goods sold at every major retailer in the country. Its products include popular brands such as Ace Maize Meal, Albany Bread, All Gold Tomato Sauce, Black Cat Peanut Butter, and Koo bottled and canned food.


Last year, the ACB tested Nestle’s baby cereal Cerelac Honey, which contained 77.65% GM maize. This resulted in a huge public outcry. Now, the test results indicate a deliberate effort on the part of Nestle to avoid the use of GMOs in its baby products containing maize and soya products, as its formulas, Nan Pelargon and NAN AR Infant are both GM free. Nestle’s Mixed Cereal, comprising of maize flour, contained extremely low levels of GM maize and GM soya that would not have triggered labelling. Curiously, however, soya is not listed as an ingredient on the packaging. These results indicate that Nestle’s is not using ingredients or products derived from GMOs in their baby cereals, and considering that 72% of maize grown in South Africa is GM, Nestle must indeed be trying to avoid it. The traces of GM found in its cereal may well be attributable to contamination along the value chain. “Is Nestle giving in to the demands of South African consumers?” asked Ismail.


The test results contrast starkly with Nestle’s pro-GM stance, and its donation of $1.2 million to support an anti-GM labelling initiative in California last year. On 3rd May 2013, Nestle was reported as having dismissed calls by US consumer groups for it to refrain from using GM ingredients in its baby formulas in the US.1 “We call upon Nestle to stop using double standards, and desist from using GM ingredients in all its food products, in all countries, as it does in European countries,” said Ismail.


The ACB is shocked to learn that Purity’s GM-laden cereals are 250% more expensive than Nestle’s baby cereal that contains only traces of GM contamination. “This belies the claim of the food and biotech industry that segregation of GM and non-GM grains along the value chain and the labeling of GM products will dramatically increase costs, which will inevitably be passed on to the consumer. It appears as if Nestle has found a way to either absorb such costs, if indeed they do exist, or source non-GM maize economically,” said Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.


Nestle is not alone in its avoidance of GMOs. Aspen’s Infacare Infant was tested to be GM free, and its InfaCare Gold Soya 1 to contain very low traces of GM maize and soya, also indicating possible contamination along the value chain. Multi-national company Aspen is a supplier of branded and generic pharmaceuticals and infant nutritional products. It recently bought Nestle’s interest in Pfizer to distribute a portfolio of infant formulas to several countries in Africa. “These latest findings make a mockery of the ?beggars can’t be choosers’ argument of the pro-GM machinery in their opposition to GM labelling. They can no longer peddle the myth that the provision of non-GM food is an onerous luxury we cannot afford,” said Mayet.

1 Nestle and Mead Johnson Nutrition dismiss call to remove GMOs from US infant formula. Contact: Zakiyya Ismail 083 273 7304, Mariam Mayet 083 269 4309.


Status of GM food labelling and the right to know in South Africa

South Africans have been eating GM maize, soya and products preserved or containing GM cotton- seed oil for more than a decade without even knowing it. This is because up until 2011 there was no obligation to label GM foods and provide consumers with information to make a choice. This changed in October 2011 when the Consumer Protection Act came into force. According to the law, all foods containing 5% or more GM content must be labeled. Despite this law, only a handful of companies are beginning to label, the majority are not. In March 2012, the ACB had four products tested for GM content: Cerelac Honey infant cereal, Wheat Free Pronutro, Impala Maize Meal and Future Life Energy Meal. Very high levels of GM content were found yet none of these products were labeled. It emerged that according to the food industry, it felt that it was not under any legal obligation to label GM food because the Consumer Protection Act is not clear as to whether the law applies to processed food. The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa claimed that the labelling laws only apply to live GMOs such as whole kernels of maize. This view means that the majority of the food derived from GMOs on our market will not be labeled. This precipitated widespread consumer pressure on food producers and the government to ensure immediate labelling. On the 9 October 2012 the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) published draft amendments to the regulations governing the labelling of GM food. According to the draft amendments, all locally produced and imported food containing 5% or more GM ingredients or components must be labeled as “contains genetically modified ingredients or components”. The proposed amendments convey the clear intention of government that the food industry must now step up to the plate and label their products. The final regulations have to date, however, not yet been promulgated. Nevertheless, several products derived from GMOs are being labeled:

  • Pioneer’s Sasko bread is labeled as “soyabean produced using genetic modification”
  • Premier’s IWISA maize is labeled as “contains genetically modified organisms”
  • Pioneer (Sasko’s) Food’s White Star maize meal is labeled as “produced using genetic modification”
  • Pioneer Food’s (Bokomo’s) corn flakes are labeled as “corn 90% (genetically modified)”