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National Consumer Council: 'public wants GMO labels'

(Sept. 27, 2001 -- CropChoice news) -- This comes from a National Consumer Council press release.

New research released today by the National Consumer Council shows clear consumer support for the 'right to know' whether food is from genetically modified (GM) crops or is the produce of animals fed GM feed. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) thought it was important that food containing GM ingredients is labelled and over three-quarters (79 percent) thought that meat and other products from animals fed GM feed should be labelled.

This week, the Council urged the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to support the European Commission's proposals to extend and strengthen GM labelling. On Sept. 19, the FSA board met to discuss their views on the plans. The proposals cover the approval, labelling and traceability of GM foods and threshold levels for accidental contamination of food by GM crops. They will also extend, for the first time, to animal feed and ingredients made from GM material but in which the modified DNA has been destroyed during processing (known as GM derivatives).

Whilst welcoming the European plans, NCC is concerned that some of the proposals do not go far enough. For instance:

  • threshold levels for the amount of accidental contamination by GM crops,
  • the European Commission proposes to maintain a maximum threshold of 1 percent,
  • accidental GM contamination.

NCC's survey shows zero contamination is the ideal: 42 percent of those who had a view expressed this preference. NCC recognizes that zero contamination may not be technically possible but believes that, as detection methods and monitoring systems improve, the 1 percent threshold should be reviewed and preferably lowered.

Allowing small amounts of accidental contamination by some GM crops, which have not been fully approved for use in the EU. It is worrying that the EU proposes to allow small levels of accidental contamination of food by GM crops and ingredients that are not yet fully approved for use in EU countries. The Council recommends that all GM varieties should receive the same degree of assessment and approval otherwise consumer confidence could be undermined.

The lack of a requirement to label meat and other products from animals fed with GM feed. Although the EU proposals will, for the first time, extend GM labelling to animal feed, there are no immediate plans to label the products of animals fed GM feed. However, NCC's survey showed that almost 8 out of 10 (79 percent) of people thought that meat and other products from animals fed with GM feed should carry this information. The NCC is therefore urging the FSA to draw up legally-binding industry guidelines for the labelling of products indicating whether or not animals have been fed GM feed.

Interestingly, where animals were the issue, consumers' concerns seemed to be heightened. The number of consumers who thought that meat and other products from GM feed should be labelled (79 percent) is substantially higher than the number of people (64 percent) who were concerned about labelling food from GM plants. This may be due to the recent crises of BSE and foot-and-mouth disease which have heightened consumers' concerns about what animals are eating.

NCC Chairman, Deirdre Hutton, said:

"Our survey shows that consumers do care about whether or not their food contains GM ingredients and these plans to strengthen and extend GM labelling should help restore consumer confidence. We have spoken to the FSA and hope they will not only support the proposals but go even further so that consumers' concerns are fully addressed. We shall be lobbying European decision makers directly on these important issues.

"This is not consumers wanting 'ever more' information; our survey shows consumers have a clear sense of priorities for food labels. Their top three priorities are information on nutritional value, allergic reactions and a full list of ingredients. GM comes next but, even so, a remarkably high number of people (33 percent) think such labelling is important."

The Council is also calling for clear liability legislation for GM in the event of damage to the environment, health or trade and more consumer involvement in the risk assessment process.