By Jason Major
Well mostly status quo. The Government appears to think all is generally OK with labelling of GM foods based on their agreement or otherwise of recommendations in the national Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy.
The Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP and The Hon Catherine King MP, the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing put out a joint media release outlining the Government’s position on a raft of proposed changes in the review. You have to scroll down to recommendation 28 before you get to anything about GM foods. See below.
So, assuming I have correctly interpreted the recommendations, the solitary change regarding labelling of GM foods involves the use of flavours. Any flavours containing detectable amounts of novel DNA or genetic material should now be labelled.
One other recommendation they agreed with, in principle, was improved monitoring of labelling requirements by more thorough testing of products. What the best way to achieve this outcome is undecided. See recommendation 33.
No, this is not a complaint about tiny portions on large white plates in fancy restaurants, but the use of nanoparticles in food. The Government agrees with Recommendation 35 that calls for, as a matter of urgency, a standard for regulating the presence of nanotechnology in food, though the Government’s agreement statement only suggested leveraging off existing procedures FSANZ has put in place. Not sure if I detect a sense of urgency here.
Rec 28: That as a general principle all foods or ingredients that have been processed by new technologies (i.e., all technologies that trigger pre-market food safety assessments) be required to be labelled for 30 years from the time of their introduction into the human food chain; the application of this principle to be based on scientific evidence of direct impact on, or modification of, the food/ingredient to be consumed. At the expiry of that period the mandatory labelling should be reviewed.
Do not agree: There is already a process in place to ensure that new technologies are safe before entering the food supply. As outlined in the response to recommendation 2, each should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Rec 29: That only foods or ingredients that have altered characteristics or contain detectable novel DNA or protein be required to declare the presence of genetically modified material on the label.
Agree: This reflects status quo including the exemption for flavours and the threshold for unintentional presence.
Rec 30: That any detection of an adventitious genetically modified event be followed by a period of monitoring and testing of that food or ingredient.
Do not agree: This would be difficult to justify with no breach of the Code and no evidence of such to justify the cost to establish.
Rec 31: That foods or ingredients with flavours containing detectable novel DNA or protein not be exempt from the requirements to declare the presence of genetically modified material on the label.
Agree in principle: There is no reason to exempt flavours however this should be referred to FSANZ for review and further advice.
Rec 32: That foods or ingredients that have been genetically modified and would require declaration if labelled be declared on menu/menu boards or in close proximity to the food display or menu in chain food service outlets and on vending machines.
Do not agree: Restaurants and food service outlets should provide this information upon request or could do it voluntarily.
Rec 33: That governments ensure effective monitoring of labelling requirements in the Food Standards Code relating to genetically modified foods or ingredients through support for sufficient Australian and New Zealand laboratories, observing world best practice protocols, and with the necessary resources and analytical skills.
Agree in principle: Currently the laboratories in Australia and New Zealand do not have the technology to undertake all the testing required for this level of monitoring. There would be significant costs involved in providing the laboratories with these technologies. It may be more cost effective to utilise overseas laboratories that already have this capability. Monitoring is also subject to resource priorities of respective enforcement agencies. There is currently a National Compliance and Monitoring Strategy for GM Foods agreed by jurisdictions. Both the Implementation Sub-Committee and FSANZ have surveillance and monitoring regimes in place, for example the survey of GM in soy based infant formula in 2011.
Rec 35: That Food Standards Australia New Zealand and other relevant bodies develop as a matter of urgency a standard for regulating the presence of nanotechnology in the food production chain, consistent with the recommendations in this Report relating to new technologies.
Agree: Support the development of a new standard leveraging off the procedures FSANZ already has in place to assess safety of foods containing nanoparticles.
There is some angst over the government review of food labelling guidelines, which include GM foods.
The one argument that will cause most controversy is the call to have meat labelled as coming from sources that have been fed GM material. If this gets any serious airing then I suspect that farmers and feed manufacturers and any industry in the processing chain will have something to say as the cost of setting up a monitoring and tracing system for every ingredient fed to livestock that is or may be genetically modified will come at a cost, and someone has to pay for it.
Where we are now
Food Standards Australian New Zealand’s web site will outline what the labelling laws are at the moment.
And for anyone really into genetically modified livestock feed the Dept of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry has a series of publications and reports on the issue.
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