By Boyd Champness

A LANDMARK conference into genetically modified foods has called for an intensive system of labelling and a moratorium on new commercial releases until an independent regulatory authority is in place in Australia.

The “consensus” conference – attended by National Farmers Federation representatives – stressed that greater caution was needed in the area of GM food development and that new commercial releases should be postponed until a transparent regulatory authority is established.

The conference delegates, constituting 14 leaders from the farming, scientific and food industries, said Australia should follow the European Communitys lead and introduce comprehensive labelling for all GM foods.

“Comprehensive labelling is the only way to ensure that health, religious, moral and ethical food choices are placed solely in the hands of each individual consumer,” the conference report said.

While most industry experts where happy with the conferences findings, seen as a cautious green light for further technological development, the NFF holds some concerns about labelling and the moratorium.

NFF vice president Brendan Stewart was quoted in Stock and Land and The Weekly Times last week saying that a temporary ban on imports and new genetically modified foods could lead to trade sanctions against Australia and put the local food industry at a competitive disadvantage.

“Labelling the end product, because of its production process, would not be meaningful, where the product is substantially equivalent,” he told Stock and Land. “NFF considers that labelling which indicates that a food may contain GMOs would not be informative.”

He said the NFF would not support labelling at the farm gate because it would be a large imposition, in terms of cost, labour and paperwork, on farmers.