Opportunity For Public To Have A Say On Labelling Genetically Modified Foods

  • Wyatt Creech

"The Government is seeking the public's view on the joint Australian and New Zealand plan to label genetically modified foods," Minister of Health Wyatt Creech said today.

A four week round of consultation taking in public comment on the future labelling of genetically modified foods begins in New Zealand and Australia today.

The Australian New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) in conjunction with the New Zealand Ministry of Health will carry out the consultation.

"We want people to be as informed as possible about genetically modified food. I hope that the consultation and the consultation document will help people become more aware about the issues surrounding labelling of genetically modified food.

"People need to consider just how detailed GMF labels should be, and the benefits and costs that are associated with labelling and compliance.

"We need to find out to what extent people want their food labelled. For instance, should labelling be extended to foods which are genetically modified but have the same taste, look, nutritional value and chemical make-up as their traditional counterparts?

"It will also be valuable to know how members of the public feel about the additional costs associated with labelling."

Under the existing labelling regime only GMFs with different characteristics and new genetic material and/or new protein must be labelled.

"Labelling of all GMFs would provide more detailed information allowing consumers to make informed choices when they buy food," Mr Creech said.

"Final decisions about our labelling regime will be made at the ANZFA Council meeting at the end of July. The feedback from the consultation will be used as we make these final decisions."

Any extensions to the current standard covering food labelling, which are decided by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council (which includes Mr Creech), could take up to 12 months to be put in place.

This would allow companies wanting to sell GM-free products time to re-engineer production lines and source new supplies of ingredients.

"In the meantime, the Ministry of Health will meet with some food industry representatives to encourage the idea of industry initiatives, including a voluntary GM-free label.

"Many food companies already have 0800 numbers for consumer to call should they require more information about certain food products."

All submissions and comments on the labelling of GMFs must be received by 5pm Friday 4 June 1999.

Copies of the consultation document and a frequently asked questions resource for GMFs can be found on the Ministry of Health website (www.moh.govt.nz)