The labelling news out of China comes on top of the recent news that 32 food companies, representing 53 brands in China, the world's biggest market, have said they will not sell GM foods in the country. Famous international brands are among those represented.
According to a survey conducted by Zhongshan University in December 2002, 87% of the respondents demand labelling of GE products and 56% of chinese consumers would choose non-GM food over GM if given the choice.
According to a recent survey by the Consumers Council of Canada, 68% of Canadians are unsure that GM food is safe but their chances of a choice as to whether they have to eat it are unlikely to improve any time soon.
1.Canada: GMO labels approval expected
2.China: GM Foods with an 'ID Card' Debut in Beijing
3.Oz: GM-free news from South Australia
1.GMO labels approval expected
Food processors could decide to ignore labelling regime, critics charge
National Post, Canada, by Ian Jack
OTTAWA - After years of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Canadian industry may finally be ready to adopt food labels identifying products containing genetically modified organisms, even though they aren't likely to appease those who have been pushing the hardest for them.
The farm, food manufacturing and retailing groups that have worked for more than three years on standards for the labels are voting on the latest draft proposal, with a decision expected this month.
The government is said to be anxious to bring the lengthy process to an end, and to be pushing for adoption of the draft regardless of the vote outcome. That is possible because the process requires consensus, which is defined as more than a simple majority but does not necessarily require unanimity.
Opponents of the process come from both ends of the political spectrum. Conservative critics say no one has proved there is anything wrong with GMOs and the labelling is bowing to public opinion instead of scientific fact.
Consumer groups say the process is hopelessly flawed because industry was in the driver's seat. They point to polls saying a majority of Canadians want mandatory labelling, while this initiative will be voluntary. In other words, despite three years of work, food processors could all decide to ignore the labelling regime when it is in place.
"It's highly unlikely a company is going to voluntarily label a food as containing GMOs. What is much more likely is that companies with GMO-free products would label," said Lucy Sharratt of the Polaris Institute.
Consumer groups also complain the new standard being voted on, which has not been released publicly, could allow even those companies that agree to use labels to avoid them for products with less than 5% genetically modified content. The equivalent European standard is 0.9%.
Most non-governmental organizations pulled out of the process long ago, leaving businesses to hash it out under the auspices of the Canadian General Standards Board, a federal government body that works with industries to facilitate standards on everything from concrete blocks to GMOs. The board almost lost patience recently, questioning publicly whether the process was worth continuing given the lack of progress.
That last outburst, along with government pressure, brought the parties back to the table in a more compromising mood, sources say.
In addition to the 5% standard, which would allow a lot of foods to escape labelling, the latest compromise is believed to say the labelling should only be adopted if an international standard on verification is adopted.
That could stall the process for years more, while allowing the Canadian industry groups to claim they have completed their work, a happy development for some of them.
Retailers are not opposed to the labeling, since it will allow them to increase sales of more profitable private-line items that they can label GMO-free, and may even drive down sales of competing brand names that cannot do the same. But processors, including major multinationals, fear exactly that, while agricultural groups worry about the logistics and cost of keeping crops strictly segregated.
At the same time, many farm groups know their foreign customers want GMO- free products. The Canadian Wheat Board, for instance, says that is the case for four-fifths of its customers, and it is considering court action to stop Monsanto Co. from getting Canadian approval for a GMO strain of wheat that can withstand a popular weedkiller.
Another element of the proposed standard is believed to allow some products to be labelled more weakly than an bald "contains GMOs." For instance, products such as canola oil might be labelled "Product of genetic engineering. Contains no genetically engineered material" instead.
Canada, the United States, China and Argentina are the largest world producers of GMOs, while the European Union has banned their import.
2.GM Foods with an 'ID Card' Debut in Beijing
People's Daily Online, Jul 21, 2003
Starting from July 21 all genetically modified (GM) foods will be labeled in markets in Beijing -- the first Chinese city to do so -- the China Youth Daily reported Monday.
The newspaper reported that 10 genetically modified food products are now on sale in Beijing, including "Huoniao," "Lubao," "Hailanhua," "Xiyingmen," "Jiaxiang," "Yulongren," "Hongle" and "Sicheng" salad oil.
Experts in this field indicate the GM label is not a symbol demonstrating whether the food is healthy or not, but giving consumers the right to know and the right to choose.
"The small label shows respect to consumers," said Wu Jianfan, director of the Beijing Genetically Modified Agricultural Organisms Office.
Regulations on the Administration of Genetically Modified Agricultural Organisms, effective March 20, 2002, stipulate that all GM produce listed in its catalogue should be clearly labeled. While GM foods were readily available in China, no GM food appeared with an "ID card" in 2002.
Yesterday, the Beijing Agricultural Bureau checked the quality of GM produce in many supermarkets and two oilseed processing companies. It is common that the use of the label is not standardized. Some produce is described as being "made from GM soybeans, but not containing the GM element," which experts said violates government rules.
In addition, some enterprises have applied for the genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling certificate, although they do not label produce when putting it on the market. The phenomenon has been checked in Beijing, the report added. (chinadaily.com.cn)
3.GM-free news from South Australia
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, SA Country Hour, Jul 18, 2003
Nothing to change on SA's GMO front - Leigh Radford
The state Select Committee on genetically modified organisms believes its report will guarantee the traditional base of GM-free of South Australian agriculture. The committee has recommended legislation that will prohibit GM crops in some regions of the state. It also places the onus of responsibility on those wishing to grow GMs to guarantee there is no impacts on others and that's a huge hurdle for those advocating co- existence. Select Committee chairman Rory McEwan says the legislation will remain in place until a parliamentary advisory committee is convinced GM and conventional crops can co-exist. And he admits the bar has been set very high. "As long as you can guarantee coexistence, and some very strict rules surround that, then it is possible to go through a process, and at least have a conditional release. Because trade and market issues depend on consumer sentiment, which is always changing, we must always have the options there. Now, the only way to have the options is to guarantee coexistence. Now some people say that's not possible. We're not making that judgment, but we're actually saying you have to prove that's possible before you can have a release."
Rory McEwen:Minister for Industry, Trade and Regional Development & Chair of the Select Committee on genetically modified organisms
SAFF not at odds with GM survey - Amy Bainbridge
Meanwhile the South Australian Farmers' Federation is at odds with views from its Victorian and NSW counterparts on the issue of GM crops. The Federation is the only state-farming organisation to have surveyed its members about GM crops. SAFF President John Lush says the survey, which found 80 per cent of farmers still had concerns about GM release, highlights the need for a market-based moratorium on GM production. He said the select committee's report highlights the views of SAFF farmers. "Our members have been telling us, very clearly, that there are a lot of problems, but the overriding thing is that they don't want to jeopardise their markets at this stage until AWB and ABB clearly come out and say that their customers are respecting of the technology - then, I think, most of our members will be accepting of the growing of GM crops but not until then. We have to reflect the wishes of our members; we don't have an option there. We're actually the only federation in Australia that has surveyed their members so we have a very clear understanding of what our members think - nobody else has actually done that."
John Lush:President, South Australian Farmers' Federation
Mallee farmers says GM just 'too hard' - Amy Bainbridge
Now to some reaction from the Mallee to the select committee's report into Genetically Modified crops. Gary Flohr is a cropping farmer at Lameroo, and he's the southern mallee representative on South Australian No Till Farmers Committee. He said he supports a cautious approach to GM, but it is now critical that research pushes ahead. "Pretty much I agree with what John [Lush] and Rory McEwan said, that we probably do need some sort of breathing space to get all this together, but my main thing is that research must continue. We're not quite ready to start planting it from fencepost to fencepost. But it sounds like it's heading in the right direction. How to you logistically handle the co-existence part? Obviously one or two per cent contamination will not be acceptable so that means that everything has to be totally divided - somehow. And until our customers are prepared to accept that then it probably can't really happen, it's too hard - that's how I see it anyway."
Gary Flohr:Cropping farmer at Lameroo & southern mallee rep on SA No Till Farmers' Committee.
SE farmer on GMs - Kathy Cogo
Alan Schinkel, a vegetable seed producer and poll dorsett breeder from Naracoorte wishes there was a lot more consultation about GM at the grass roots level. He said that he would be happy if the South Australian government refused commercial release of GMOs for the time being. "I'd be quite pleased to have that result but the situation needs to be looked at on a continuing basis. I don't think we should shut our eyes completely to GMOs but it's probably important that this be across the whole country. One of our problems is that we have different rules for different things in different states and being so close to the border it could be a problem. I'm not anti GMOs as far as GMOs go, I'm mainly concerned about the future of our markets. If whoever's buying our products doesn't want GMO products why in hell would we want to try and grow them for?" Asked if he thought the farmers have been listened to on this debate he said, "No, not at all. No, I don't think so. I think it's been driven from the top and the questions have been asked of the wrong people. They should be talking to Tatiara Meats, Tees Brothers, Coles, all those people that process meat, the Barley Board who export grain. Are they going to be able to handle stuff that's been GMO grown or been fed GMO products?"
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