AFGC angry over GM “scare campaign”

Posted by Josette Dunn on 19th February 2010

Claims by Choice that Australian foods containing Genetically Modified (GM) ingredients do not have to be labelled as GM are false and misleading, according to the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC).

Choice claimed today that Australian supermarket shelves were “full” of foods with ingredients from GM crops, such as soy, corn, canola and cotton that were not labelled “genetically modified”.  Choice says that lax food labelling laws make it almost impossible for those who want to avoid genetically modified food.

Food labels

However AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said Choice’s statements were incorrect.

“Choice has conveniently failed to recognise that for almost 10 years, strict labelling regulations have governed all GM foods and ingredients in Australia,” Ms Carnell said.

“All GM foods must be labelled under Food Standard 1.5.2 introduced in 2001.

“Therefore, instead of unnecessarily scaring Australian consumers, Choice should be sticking to the facts about GM food labels and regulations.”

The regulation requires that food, including ingredients, additives and processing aids, must be labelled genetically modified if DNA or protein from a GM variety is present in the final product. These labelling requirements are overseen by independent food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

According to the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel, special labels are not required for:

* ‘Highly refined’ foods where the altered DNA or protein is no longer in the food (for example, oil from modified corn).
* GM food additives or processing aids – unless the new DNA remains in the food to which it is added.
* GM flavours where less than 0.1 per cent is present in the food.
* Food, food ingredients or processing aids where GM ingredients are ‘unintentionally’ present in less than 1.0 per cent.
* Food that is prepared at the point of sale (takeaway and restaurant food does not have to be labelled).

Ms Carnell said “In Australia, there’s no doubt that if there’s GM protein or DNA in the final food product, it has to be clearly labelled under law.”  This statement, while true, highlights the complexity of the debate.  Consumers may be excused for being confused about the GM labelling laws, as science cannot yet tell whether consumption of GM ingredients that fall outside the definition of ‘GM protein or DNA’ and therefore do not have to be mentioned on food labels, will produce any negative consequences in the future.

“You have a right to know if your food comes from GM crops or GM fed animals, directly or indirectly. The law should require full disclosure of any GM ingredients so that consumers have all the information they need to make a truly informed choice,” says Choice senior campaigner Clare Hughes.

FSANZ has decided that GM ingredients only need to be labelled as such if GM protein or DNA exist in the final food product, however many people feel that this is not strict enough.

According to industry guidelines, foods certified as organic or biodynamic should not contain any GM ingredients, and many consumers choose to buy organic for this reason.

Due to consumer demand, some food manufacturers in Australia have taken steps to provide GM-free food. These products may be labelled accordingly; for example, ‘contains no genetically modified ingredients’.

Meanwhile, the food labelling debate continues, and confusion among consumers abounds, about what is healthy, what is safe, and what they are really eating.  With a government review of food labelling underway in Australia, Choice is encouraging consumers to take action by sending a message to the Food Labelling Review Panel asking for better GM labelling on all foods.