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Big Backdown Looms On GE Labelling - Kedgley

GE labelling faces the axe - Green Party

Health Minister Annette King must stand firm against the executioner's axe facing the proposed transtasman genetically engineered food labelling scheme, the Green Party said today.

"If the latest proposal by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard is accepted at the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council meeting later this month, virtually no GE foods will be labelled. It would be farcical," said Green Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley.

"Australian consumer groups confirm that state premiers look set to capitulate to Mr Howard's proposal and renege on the agreement by Australian and New Zealand health ministers last October to a comprehensive labelling of all foods derived from gene technology."

This month Mr Howard wrote to Prime Minister Helen Clark and Australian state premiers proposing that all food additives, processing aids, highly refined sugars and oils, restaurant and takeaway food and foods containing less than one per cent GE should be exempt from labelling. The deadline set by Mr Howard was June 30. Under his proposal, only a handful of foods out of the more than 60 percent of food in supermarkets which contain GE ingredients, would be labelled. Unlabelled foods containing GE would include sweets, ice-cream, tinned foods, biscuits, chocolate, pasta sauce, frozen dinners, takeaways and restaurant food.

"It would be a total sham," Ms Kedgley said. "After three years of consumer action and thousands of submissions and letters from concerned New Zealanders, I am incredulous that politicians have proposed yet another U-turn on labelling.

"We're right back at square one - Tuariki Delamere territory - where consumers' rights to know what they're eating are being trampled on by politicians influenced by the grocery and biotech industries. It seems even crazier when the latest study shows the cost of labelling is quite moderate - only 0.19 percent of our food bill.

"I call on the New Zealand Government to stick to its pre-election promise to label all food derived from GE products, and reject Mr Howard's ludicrous proposal, especially since Australian consumer groups have indicated to me that state premiers are likely to capitulate to his demands," said Ms Kedgley.

If the Australians accepted "this absurd regime", the only option for New Zealand would be to opt out of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority labelling regime and set up its own comprehensive system, Ms Kedgley said. Mr Howard's suggestion that the government consider providing information through alternative means like pamphlets in supermarkets and phone-lines was "completely ridiculous and insulting to consumers", she said.

Sue Kedgley MP: 04 384 9123 or 025 270 9088. Paul Bensemann, press secretary: 021 214 2665.

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