26 March 1999

Attack on GM labelling

By Xxxxxx Xxxxxx

FARMERS, environmentalists and politicians have described the governments new labelling laws on genetically modified (GM) foods as inadequate.

The rules, aimed at enforcing the labelling of foodstuffs containing GM soya or maize, mean that outlets labelling food incorrectly face prosecution and a £5000 fine, said junior farm minister Jeff Rooker.

"The government is determined that consumers should be able to choose whether or not to eat genetically modified foods. This includes foods sold in restaurants, cafes and takeaways and not just that available from supermarkets," he said.

The rules make the UK the first EU country to take steps to ensure that diners eating out can choose whether or not to buy GM food.

But Lib-Dem food spokesman Paul Tyler said the government must not use a half-baked labelling policy as a fig leaf for not having a more general policy on GM food.

"Segregation of GM food is already becoming difficult and if the government cannot guarantee products are GM-free then labelling will not be of any use," he insisted.

"There is already doubt over the accuracy of information available. Labelling could soon become a dangerous red herring and distract attention away from the need to police the genetic engineers. What matters is that GM crops are monitored internationally – well before the labelling stage."

In evidence submitted to the governments science and technology committee this week, the Farmers Union of Wales also said the GM labelling plans did not go far enough.

A union spokesman said the law allowed consumers to make a choice, but it did nothing to allay the concerns of farmers who might unwittingly feed modified crops to their stock

And environmental campaigners Greenpeace joined with the pro-organic body the Soil Association saying that the announcement on labelling lacked understanding of the real choice facing the nation – whether to go down the GM route or the organic one.