• Robyn McDonald
Consumer Affairs

The Government has decided to vote against the Private Member's Bill - Food (Genetic Modification Information) Amendment Bill 1997. The legislation proposes to prohibit the sale of genetically modified foods (GMFs) unless they are labelled accordingly.

"We empathise with the concerns expressed by consumer groups about genetically modified foods, and we assure New Zealanders that policy work is making positive progress in dealing with the issues of labelling GMFs, both domestically and internationally," said the Ministers.

"The Private Member's Bill however, does not work in conjunction with the current level of policy development occurring within Government.

"The Bill could create substantial difficulties by imposing a compulsory labelling regime which not only preempts the processes we have underway in trans-Tasman and international discussions but could also place New Zealand in the position of breaching our international obligations.

"We also have to ensure that we do not impose greater compliance and enforcement costs on business which in turn creates additional costs for consumers," said Hon Tuariki John Delamere.

"Within New Zealand, consumers can be assured that under the New Zealand Food Act 1981, food is only available if it is safe for general consumption. We also have the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) which is a joint body established to set food standards, including food labelling standards," Hon Robyn McDonald said.

"ANZFA have produced a draft standard covering the safety assessment and labelling requirements for genetically modified foods and further work is progressing to refine the detail of this draft standard.

"In the wider international context, policies determining the labelling of GMFs are still at development stage and many countries have yet to address the issue. New Zealand also participates in the international food safety body Codex Alimentarius which is developing an internationally agreed standard on labelling GMF's," said the Ministers.

"Whilst we agree that the issue of genetically modified foods is a most important one for consumers, we want to make sure that New Zealand's labelling approach can also be integrated with any international agreement."