Food Safety Minister announces labelling regs for GM soya and maize

UK Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker has announced the introduction of new powers aimed at enforcing an EC Regulation on the labelling of foodstuffs containing genetically modified (GM) soya or maize.

And in a move in which sets the UK apart from Europe, the controls will also apply to restaurants, cafes, bakers and delicatessens. The new measures mean that outlets selling foods containing GM material that is not properly labelled may be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000.

EC Regulation 1139/98, containing detailed rules on labelling of GM soya and maize, requires all foods containing ingredients produced from GM soya and maize to be clearly labelled to indicate this except whether neither protein nor DNA resulting from the modification is present.

EC Regulation 1139/98 is enforced under the Food Labelling (Amendment) Regulations 1999. This legislation applies to Monsanto’s GM soya and Novartis’ GM maize, which were previously approved under EC Directive 90/220 concerning the deliberate release of GM organisms into the environment.

In a Parliamentary answer Rooker said: “I have laid before Parliament this morning the Food Labelling (Amendment) Regulations 1999, which will come into force tomorrow. These provide the means for Local Authorities to be able to enforce the EC Regulation that requires all foods containing genetically modified soya or maize ingredients to be clearly labelled. This Regulation, which took effect last September, applies to all foods produced and labelled from that date.

“The Government is determined that consumers should be able to choose whether or not to eat genetically modified foods. This includes foods sold in restaurants, cafes and takeaways and not just that available from supermarkets. The UK is the first Member State in Europe to take steps to ensure that consumers eating out will have the same right to choose whether or not to consume foods containing GM ingredients as those buying from shops.

A spokesperson for UK food chain Pret A Manger said that introducing labelling on all foods would be very difficult, mainly because it is difficult to control the sources used by suppliers. The spokesperson said that claims by other UK chains that they are GM free were “optimistic, because it’s almost impossible to tell whether or not a food contains GM ingredients. GM foods are now found in 60% of the food supply chain, and even organic farms can unwittingly use up to 25% soya in their animal feed.”

Although Pret A Manger says it has always avoided the use of harmful additives and preservatives, and is already well placed to deal with GM labelling, the spokesperson said that it would be dishonest to claim the company is GM free, adding: “I must say that I am impressed with those large retailers who say they are going GM free. They are trying to get rid of GM products from 25,000 product lines, while we have only to deal with 500.”

Rooker’s announcement comes in the same week as UK retailer Sainsbury’s set up an international anti-GM retailers consortium. See linked article for details.

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