4 April 1997

Interested groups agree over GMfoodlabelling

GUIDELINES to encourage labelling of genetically modified foods have been agreed by UK food, farming and consumer representatives.

Published by the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) the guidelines are the result of a four-year collaboration between food retailers, manufacturers, scientists and farming and consumer groups.

Launching the initiative IGD said its consumer research, and discussions with consumers groups, showed that, where practical, labelling of products that contain modified genetic material will further help to build consumer understanding and confidence.

The guidelines are intended to supplement EU labelling rules. But unlike the EU rules no distinction is drawn between active and inactive genetic material.

That means, as far as reasonably possible, a whole food, such as a tomato, or an ingredient, such as durum wheat in dried pasta, "should be labelled if it is known to contain modified genetic material whether active or not", say IGD.

Under IGD guidelines meal flour produced from herbicide resistant GM soya, and sourced from a traceable supply, would therefore be labelled because it contains modified genetic material.

The IGD guidelines would also require labelling of other products where GM material is present including:

&#8226 Fruit pie containing apple modified to be disease resistant and cooked to 70C

&#8226 Cabbage modified to be herbicide tolerant and sold cooked.

&#8226 Composite flour containing heat treated whole grain from plants genetically modified to be disease resistant.

None of the above, including GM soya products would be labelled under EU rules because the EU argues genetically modified organisms are not present in the products.

But IGD say consumers are unable to differentiate between active and inactive genetic material.

"For the mainstream consumer who is concerned about genetic modification, it is the presence of DNA (genetic material) that has been genetically modified that is most relevant to them, regardless of whether the modified DNA is intact or has been degraded," it says.

"Furthermore, it was recognised that in certain products it would be difficult to make precise judgements on the level of activity," it adds.

IGD research also showed that consumer concern centred on the ingestion of modified genetic material rather than the direct use of the technology.

IGD also recognises that confirmation of the presence of GM products in commodity ingredients, such as soya, may not be reasonably practicable. But "under no circumstances should negative claims, such as "free from genetically modified ingredient" or contains no genetically modified ingredient be used".