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Official Moves On GM-Free Labelling Welcomed

Official Moves On GM-Free Labelling Welcomed By Consumers But Sets Government On Collision Course Over Trade Agreement "Ban" On Labels.

The Government has moved to put into action one of the recommendations by the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification to support GM-free labelling. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has called a meeting of core stake-holders to determine how the government can facilitate a voluntary labelling regime, but the project could be scuttled before it gets off the ground.

The initial meeting in Wellington on Wednesday 27th February, includes consumer-rights groups such as Greenpeace and the National Consumers Food Safety Network as well as pro-GM organisations such as Biotenz, and the trans-Tasman food Authority ANZFA. A
wider round of consultation will take place in June.

But there are fears that the government push to sign free trade agreements will see all such labeling banned because it is considered a " trade barrier" to GM foods produced in the US.

"We know people support labelling and will welcome having the government facilitate GM-Free labels. But the plan could backfire on the government if they do not succeed in getting labelling but instead sacrifice basic consumer rights to get free trade deals", said a
spokesperson for GE-Free NZ in Food and Environment.

It is hoped that GM-Free labels will come into use on a voluntary basis. Many manufacturers already promise that their products include no GM-derived ingredients.

" In election year any failure to protect these rights, and sacrifice them for free trade deals will backfire. It is in the government's interest to get GM-Free labelling up and running by November so that they can prove their support for consumer rights."

"GM-Free labelling puts the government on a collision course with those in the biotech industry who have opposed labelling by claiming GM ingredients are "substantially equivalent" to normal foods. This claim has been rejected in reports this month by the US
National Research Council, and the UK Royal Society who warned babies, pregnant women and the elderly were particularly at risk from inadequately tested GM foods"

The international dispute is set to reach new heights on 20th March when the worlds biggest market- China- introduces a labelling and safety-certificate requirement for GE imports, despite US objections.
Many countries trying to introduce labelling have already been threatened under WTO trade agreements. In Canada brands with GM-Free labels have had the symbols removed and been threatened with de-listing.

On December 6, 2001, the U.S. House of Representative passed H.R. 3005, the "Bipartisan Trade promotion Authority Act of 2001" (i.e. "Fast Track"). Within the
house-passed legislation is a provision relating to trade objectives and the labeling of genetically engineered food. The Fast Track bill states that a principal objective of U.S. agricultural trade policy is to protect its markets and advance its exports by trying to eliminate "unjustified trade barriers" such as "labeling" on new technologies, including
"biotechnology." The language could be seen as U.S. intent to prevent (through bi-lateral negotiations or otherwise) foreign countries "unjustified" labeling of genetically engineered foods.


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