|Members and employees of the Farmer's COOP and its cooperatives and consumers from across the nation wore costumes at a protest in front of the Government Complex in Seoul, April 10, to demand a revision of food laws so genetically modified organism ingredients are on labels. They hold a flag that says, "Fake GMO labeling No! Better GMO labeling Yes!" / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
By Ko Dong-hwan
Hundreds of farmers, consumers and environmental activists gathered in front of the Government Complex in Seoul Tuesday to demand that food labeling list genetically modified organisms (GMO).
About 500 protesters from across the nation criticized the central government for not changing the regulations.
They were concerned that GMOs could be harmful to health and demanded the right to know whether their purchases contained any GMO.
Cooperative group Farmer's COOP said the government imports an average of 2.28 million tons of GMO as ingredients for food products a year and each person consumes 40 kilograms. But a survey by Farmer's COOP, the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice and consumer group Consumers Korea revealed that none of 438 market products containing GMOs that it searched listed the ingredients on labels.
Farmer's COOP, formerly iCOOP, said unrealistic food labeling regulations and the government exempting too many products are the main reasons behind the protest.
"Many of us farmers don't want GMOs but the government just keeps importing them," a rice paddy farmer from Buan, North Jeolla Province, said during the demonstration. "I am fearful of GMOs that, once taken by rats, can sterilize them. I want a healthy Republic of Korea."
|Farmers from across South Korea gathered in front of the Government Complex in Seoul to join the demonstration that employed flash mob dances and singing. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
Placards with the event's catchphrase, "Fake GMO indication out, better GMO indication yes," were hoisted above the crowd. Demonstrators also were told that their petition to the presidential office's online site was endorsed by almost 210,000 people. Any petition that attracts 200,000 or more supporters requires an official response.
The petition from March 12 demanded that the president revise the GMO regulation to meet international standards. It also called for a revision of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety's law that prevents food products from having "Non-GMO" on labels.
Consumers, farmers and employees of social cooperatives who came from as far as Hampyeong, South Jeolla Province, some 320 kilometers south of Seoul, made the event a cheerful gathering with songs and flash mob dances.
"Thank you for coming to the demonstration from across the country when you all must right now be at your farms since we have entered the busy farming season," Farmer's COOP President Cho Seong-kyu told protesters from 88 subsidiary cooperatives that have about 230,000 registered members. "We social cooperative members, producers and consumers all must protect our rights."
|Costume-wearing activists, farmers and consumers livened up Tuesday's demonstration with music and dancing. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
South Korean President Moon Jae-in promised during his presidential campaign in 2017 to list GMO ingredients in domestic food products. The food ministry showed the same intention. But authorities have so far failed to act.
"The food ministry, which is responsible for healthy food tables in this nation, said the GMO indication measure will be reached by a 'social agreement'," Yoon Cheol-hwan, a director from the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, said. "It means the ministry doesn't want to get its hands dirty. It has never offered a meeting table for discussion and only gave us formal responses without something fruitful."
Protesters demanded "GMO's exodus out of the country to prevent humanity's extinction" and asked the food ministry to "stop giving in to heavyweight conglomerates and start working on approving the transparent GMO ingredient indication." They also warned candidates for the local elections in June to promise to resolve the GMO issue.
A farmer from Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province, said leading politicians are enjoying non-GMO foods, including the food minister, while ordinary people are prevented from knowing which foods are non-GMO.
An organic crop harvester from Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province, suggested they should "support the food minister Ryu Young-jin, who has the weakest power among South Korean ministers, to take the Prime Minister's office so he can attend to our voices better."