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Warning signals fatal flaws in GM food labelling

Press release: 6 December 2002

Doctors' warning signal fatal flaws in GM food labelling regime

The Australian / New Zealand labelling regime for genetically engineered food coming into force at the end of this week is fatally flawed and exposes the public to unacceptable health risks. GE-Free New Zealand in food and environment are demanding the government address these failings by extending the labelling regime and implementing "an open-ended moratorium on transgenic food products." as called for by the British Medical Association last week.

The regime regulating GE foods is touted by governments in both countries as 'world-class' but involves no testing by the food authorities and contains a gaping hole because it does not require the labelling of GE products sold from cafes, restaurants and bakeries.The regime also exempts additives, and ingredients such as refined oils that can remain hidden in products despite having been produced through genetic engineering.

These failings leave the public at risk from untested and unexpected side-effects from GE foods about which the British Medical Association- representing more than 120, 000 medical professionals in the UK- has again warned in its submission to the Scottish Parliament. The BMA says the use of antibiotic resistant markers in GMO's is unacceptable and must be prohibited immediately. "There is a significant risk that antibiotic resistance markers may progress through the food chain, possibly into pathogenic organisms causing human disease," says the BMA.

"The government has let the greed of the biotech industry lobbyists win out over good science, the precautionary approach to public health, and people's basic right to know that they are consuming what is best described as experimental food," says Jon Carapiet from GE-free NZ in food and environment.

There is also concern that the collapse of the global market for GE foods may lead to exploitation of lower income families as an easy dumping ground for unwanted GE products that even developing countries have rejected as food aid.

"Visit a typical high-street bakery, takeaway or chip-shop and ask about the GE ingredients they use and few of them are likely to have a clue about GE in their products," says Mr Carapiet.

"Supposedly the new regime requires retailers to know, but I suspect few people in poorer parts of our country even know they need to ask. It is quite possible that GE foods are being dumped into low-cost takeaway outlets so exposing the most vulnerable people to the risks being warned about by the BMA," he says.

According to issues raised by the British Medical Association, other medical professionals and many independent scientists our new labelling regime is based on a flawed system that has the potential to seriously undermine public health.

" I fear that one day we may look back on this time with astonishment at the negligent arrogance of the authorities and their willingness to compromise our health in the pursuit of trade and the convenience of the multinational food companies," Mr Carapiet says.

The following points summarise some of the serious flaws in the regulatory regime

The biotechnology industry continues to insert antibiotic marker genes into everyday foodstuffs as part of the genetic engineering process despite growing problems of antibiotic resistance, repeated warnings from doctors, and industry promises to stop. The Food Safety Australia New Zealand (formerly ANZFA) have continued to approve novel GE foods into the food chain without conducting any tests.

Authorities rely on an 'assessment' of the biotech companies' own very limited data. Though the Royal Commission was persuaded that the former ANZFA was one of the better regulatory systems in place around the world there is still no long-term testing of GE foods or human trials which even the UK Royal Society says are needed. There is no public health monitoring of effects as called for by organisations such as the Public Health Association in Australia, and the British Medical Association.

There are no warnings to pregnant mothers and parents of young children about the risks identified by the Royal Society from GE products like Soy. There is ongoing contamination of conventional food supplies. Recent instances in the US of food crops becoming contaminated by pharmaceutical-producing plants has alarmed even the grocery industry who have previously promoted GE food.

Industry pressure to introduce nutriceuticals and " functional foods" as new profit-streams has prompted officials to resign from food regulatory authorities in protest at the threat to balanced eating recommended by nutritionists as the basis of health.


Media Contact - Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

The British Medical Association report highlights the following warnings concerning GE foods and crops trials.

" Should the Executive prevent GM crop trials from continuing on the grounds that it is against the precautionary principle to allow them to continue? Yes."

"There has not been a robust and thorough search into the potential harmful effects of GM foodstuffs on human health."

"Perhaps most worrying of all, a report by the Royal Society highlighted the issue of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance 'markers' help identify GM pants and there is evidence these genes may be transferred to non-GM plants. There is a significant risk that antibiotic resistance markers may progress through the food chain, possibly into pathogenic organisms causing human disease."

"The BMA believes that the use of antibiotic resistant markers in GM foodstuffs is a completely unacceptable risk, however slight to human health, and we therefore believe that the use of antibiotic resistant markers in GMOs be prohibited immediately."

"Transgenic products may adversely affect people suffering from allergies. The BMA believes that further research and tests on GM foodstuffs for allergenicity needs to be undertaken. Until this is completed there must be an open-ended moratorium on transgenic products, especially introducing nut genes and proteins into cereals."

"The BMA would like to se independently funded and reviewed research in the public domain which considers the long term health and environmental health impact of GM crop planting and the consumption of GM food"

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