GM battle could be lost by poor policing

Companies that fail to label food with genetically modified (GM) ingredients properly are unlikely to get caught because of insufficient funding, an environmental campaign group has stated.

Penalties for organisations that breach GM labelling laws came into force in England this week. But Friends of the Earth (FoE) has warned that local authorities do not have the financial resources to carry out sufficient monitoring, allowing some companies to fall short of the requirements.

The new regulations state that any food or animal feed containing GM ingredients or derivatives above a 0.9% threshold (to allow for accidental contamination) must be clearly labelled.

Any British company found to be in breach of these rules now faces a fine of up to £5,000 or three months in prison. However, the Government has only allocated £400,000 for enforcement in relation to GM products being sold to unknowing customers.

Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute, Ron Gainsford, said with little funding, many local authorities would have to invest their budget in other on-going priorities.

“We take the monitoring of labelling laws seriously, but different authorities will have different local priorities and the strain on resources becomes more demanding as the trading standards remit continues to grow. There is a need for a balancing of resources,” he said.

GM campaigner for FoE, Clare Oxborrow, said that a failure to uphold the new regulations would mean that the Government was failing the British public.

“These rules were brought in to help consumers avoid GM food but people in the UK are being let down because the rules cannot be properly policed,” Ms Oxborrow stated. “The public have said time and again they want to avoid GM food, but the Government hasn’t provided local authorities with sufficient funds to carry out proper monitoring. Unless this changes, the rules will be open to abuse.”

A recent survey conducted by Which? magazine (see related story) showed that nearly three-quarters of people living in the UK were very concerned about the health implications of GM food, and that public opposition had increased considerably over the last two years.

By Jane Kettle

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