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Industry commits to meaningful information

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M EDIA RELEASE Tuesday, 3 August, 1999



The Australian food and drink industry has reinforced its commitment to providing meaningful information to consumers in die wake of tonight’s decision on the. labelling o f genetically modified (Girl) foods by Australian and New Zealand Health Ministers.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council Executive Director, Mr Mitchell H Hooke said, “the decision is tantamount to a "reality check’ on the practical, cost-effective delivery of legislative mandatory labelling of GM foods.

“There is no reasonable argument about the objectives of mandatory labelling of GM foods, only the means of achieving them. The Ministers’ decision lists the issues to be considered in ensuring that labelling is practical, meaningful, cost-effective and consistent with Australia’s World Trade

Organisation obligations.

“Industry and regulators have been grappling with these problems for some time and not just here in Australia. Indeed, the complexity is such that the Europeans have deferred a decision until 2002 and are similarly trying to determine threshold levels for labelling.

“The AFGC has consistently advocated a strong and comprehensive labelling regime and information system to ensure consumers’ right to choice can be exercised. We argued that the needs and expectations of consumers are better sewed by a combination of regulation, co-

regulatory Codes o f Practice and the provision of readily accessible information, including at the point o f sale, about the technology and its application, than by labelling alone.

“Tonight’s decision which may ultimately require food companies to declare the presence, absence or possibility of approved GM ingredients in foods on the labels of products, will not deter industry from its commitment to provide consumers with meaningful information.

“We do n o t consider that mandatory labelling alone, as being proposed, will satisfy the information requirements o f consumers to enable them to make an informed choice. Rather it stands to mislead and confuse consumers and add considerable recurrent costs on industry and ultimately consumers, with little tangible benefit. The consequences to Australia’s international trade obligations under the WTO are also likely to be significant.

“In essence, the Ministers’ decision means that industry7 must shoulder more of the responsibility for providing meaningful information to consumers. Consumers will not have the information necessary to differentiate products if the great majority o f products on supermarket shelves carry the label might contain approved GM ingredients without additional information.

“Companies wall have no alternative under the proposed Standard but to use the might contain label if they cannot discern differences between GM and non-GM ingredients, if farmers don’t segregate crops, and if they there is no reliable diagnostic test to detect differences.

“We will work with the Ministers to address these issues in line with the need for labelling and Other supporting information to be practical, meaningful and with the lowest compliance costs, and that industry has sufficient time for implementation. We will strive to ensure that, any new labelling regime is complemented by an industry Code o f Practice and point-of-sale information.

“We welcome the Ministers* consideration o f extending mandatory labelling to unpackaged foods. This should include fresh food and food from fast food outlets, restaurants, catering and even hospitals. We expect that the decision will apply to imported products and in this regard Ministers have determined to address the implications o f a Standard for Australia/New Zealand’s obligations under the WTO Agreements and the international standards,” said Mr Hooke.


- · u r Η λ Λ , o r T i n * Melero Ph 02 6273 1466 / 0417 667 169 / 0408 646 577