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GM food labelling deferral- welcomes respite

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< To: Political editor M EDIA STATEM ENT Friday, 2 2 O ctober, 1 9 9 9



Statement by the AFGC Executive Director, Mr Mitchell H Hooke

“Today’s decision by Health Ministers to effectively defer ratification of the proposal to extend existing mandatory labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods is a welcome respite in resolving complex issues in the interests of consumers.

“Today’s meeting of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council (ANZFSQ resolved to publish the draft Standard for public consultation, to undertake further economic and financial assessment of compliance costs, and to reconsider matters early in the new year.

“This pause in the process is another critical reality check for effective and efficient labelling regulations.

“The Health Ministers have repeatedly stated that their deliberations on extending mandatory labelling laws are not a safety issue, but of providing consumers information and the right to choice, that is practical, meaningful and cost-effective.

“This is a position industry strongly supports in properly meeting the information needs and expectations of consumers. There is no disagreement over the objectives, only the means.

“It is better to get it right than to rush head-long into regulations that to date have bedeviled every jurisdiction around the world.

“It demands a whole-of-govemment approach given that it is not a safety issue and has broader implications for the whole of agrifood chain and to Australia’s obligations under World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreements. The Prime Minister is absolutely right in calling for this.

“Australia simply cannot afford draconian, costly and internationally inconsistent regulations that will not satisfy the genuine information needs of consumers.

“The proposed regulations would require companies to determine the GM status of each and every ingredient, additive and processing aid used in their products, to accurately declare whether their products “do contain . . . “may contain ... ” or “do not contain.., ” GM ingredients. It is proposed that there be no provision for thresholds.

“These regulations stand to:

impose substantial costs on industry and consumers - estimated by a KPMG study to be up to $3 billion in the first round, and $1.5 billion annually thereafter, translating into approximately a 6% and 3-4% increase in food costs respectively;

deny organic food producers the ability to declare subject products GM free, limiting consumer choice;

severely compromise the labelling of products from segregated or “identity preserved” schemes for non-GM sourced materials, again limiting choice;

contravene Australia’s obligations under WTO Agreements rendering Australia vulnerable to challenge and retaliation under the WTO;

discriminate in favour of unpackaged foods ie . whole fresh foods or products sold through food service outlets ie. fast food, restaurants, catering etc; and

be out of step with the rest of the world - the Europeans have determined a draft Commission regulation which provides for a 1% threshold and exemptions for refined foods, additives and flavourings.



“The industiy remains committed to a regulatory regime and the provision of information that enables companies to make independent commercial decisions, provide product diversity and enable consumers to exercise their undeniable right to choice.

“The proposed regulations will add little to what companies are already doing in meeting consumer requirements for product diversity and accurate labelling - witness organic foods, Kosher and Halal foods, free range eggs etc. The industry’s will concentrate its efforts where it can really add value for consumers, but wants to do that without the legacy of costly, ineffective

further regulations.


Contact: Mitchell H Hooke or Lina Melero Ph 02 62731466 / 0417 667169