6 December 1996

Views still split over GMfoods

By FWreporters

AN EU agreement on labelling of novel foods has failed to satisfy campaign groups concerned over the introduction of genetically modified crops.

Julie Sheppard of the Genetics Forum condemned the proposed regulation, which has still to be formally adopted by the EU council and the European Parliament as "a collection of loopholes".

But MAFF welcomed the agreement as "a good deal for UK consumers" adding that it as important it was implemented "as a matter of urgency to retain consumer confidence".

Compromise welcomed

The NFU also broadly welcomed the compromise package, saying it would enable the progress of novel foods to proceed in a responsible manner.

And the Food and Drink Federation said it filled a gap in the regulatory system which would be welcomed by the consumer.

Under the deal struck by an EU conciliation committee novel foods will require labelling when they incorporate human genes, when animal genes are introduced into a plant food or when scientists judge the product is not equivalent to an existing food.

Products would also need be labelled if they consisted or contained a "live" genetically modified organism. Citing the example of a herbicide resistant cabbage EU officials said retailers must label it accordingly and state the presence of GMOs. But the rules do nove cover GM seed.

Ms Sheppard said all GM fresh fruit or vegetables, would need to be labelled. But most processed products would not as these were judged to be "dead". And processing aids, including GM enzymes were not covered by the regulation.

"Only about 5%-10% of all genetically engineered foods are going to be labelled under this proposal," she said.

GM soyabeans, which arrived in the UK amid protests from Greenpeace at Liverpool docks at the weekend, would not be subject to labelling under the agreement.

Other GM products sold in the UK, including vegetarian cheese and tomato paste, which are judged to contain no genetic material would also not need to be labelled.

The GM soya, which is mixed with conventionally grown beans, will be processed at Cargills Liverpool plant and is set to be in supermarkets within a fortnight.

Ms Sheppard said the EU agreement gave the green light to bulk consignments of GM and conventional crops. And by not requiring these consignments to be segregated she said the committee had effectively undermined consumer choice.

Consumers view

The Consumers Association has also said the refusal of UK food manufacturers to inform shopppers of the presence of GM took away consumers fundamental right to choose.

But the conciliation committee had agreed to allow organic products to be labelled GMO- free.

Labelling allows consumers to make an informed choice on foodstuffs.