Food Law News - UK - 2001

FSA Statement, 19 September 2001

GM FOODS - FSA Backs Real Consumer Choice on GM Labelling

The FSA held an open board discussion on GM labelling in Belfast today. The board stressed the need for maximum consumer information that could be shown to be accurate and reliable. The Agency will be emphasising these points in its advice to the British government on the current EU GM labelling proposals. It will also continue to update the British public on GM issues including the current widespread use of GM derivatives, enzymes, processing agents and animal feed in our food production.

Sir John Krebs FSA chairman said:

'The FSA is fully committed to consumer choice and the right to know about the full range of use of GM technology in food production. The agency wants to ensure consumers have real choices about GM and meaningful information. However, as the Agency board discussions showed there are real difficulties in fulfilling consumer needs for comprehensive labelling in this area.'

'The Board was not convinced that the current commission proposals could be delivered for consumers in a way that can be enforced, is practical and affordable. Consumers could face increase costs without any guarantees that the scheme will work. Without proper safeguards there could be widespread fraud and consumers could be fleeced. These issues need to be resolved in the interests of consumers.'

'We want a scheme that works for consumers. That is why our starting point is what works now and the FSA will want to take another look at the range of options as they develop.'

The Board considered the Commission proposals are inconsistent in not requiring labelling of all food products using GM technology and products from animals fed GM materials. Under the proposals derived products, such as refined oils, would be labelled but as they cannot be distinguished from those derived from non-GM crops any claims could not be verified. In addition, compliance and enforcement costs would be high and the paper trail required would offer considerable potential for fraud with no guarantees that the system would provide consumers with their right to know.

The Board proposed that a starting point for EU negotiations should be maintaining the current labelling rules supplemented with the introduction of a provision of 'GM free' labelling. The advantages are:

The Board stressed that the issue of GM labelling is about the right to know and consumer choice rather than about health risks, as all GM foods undergo products that had been through a rigorous safety assessment.

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