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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 08:50 GMT

UK Politics

Restaurants told: Label GM food

Restaurants will be fined if they do not label GM food

Restaurants and cafes are to be required by law to tell customers if food they serve contains genetically-modified ingredients.

The government is introducing penalties for caterers, shops, food makers and restaurants who fail to label food correctly.

June Kelly BBC Consumer Affairs Correspondent: GM backlash has ministers on defensive
The move follows implementation of a European Union directive last September requiring GM food sold in shops to be labelled.

Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker said: "Consumers are entitled to have a choice."

Food under the microscope
But he insisted no risk existed from eating the GM products already available in shops and restaurants.

"With respect to genetic modification, there is no health or scientific evidence that has been put to peer group testing by other scientists, that give us any doubt about the safety of those foods that are currently regulated on the market."

The minister stressed the law already required food retailers to mark products containing GM ingredients.

[ image: Some supermarkets are removing GM ingredients from own-brand foods]
Some supermarkets are removing GM ingredients from own-brand foods
"We're giving powers to local authorities to enforce the existing law, which requires that genetically-modified soya and maize in products should be labelled."

But the inspection process would apply to only end-product ingredients, he said, as derivatives could not be found by testing.

Some campaigners feel the regulations do not go far enough.

Jeff Rooker: "This would only enforce existing law"
Friends of the Earth said the new laws should include GM-product derivatives, such as lecithin, a soya by-product.

A spokesman for the group said: "If these ingredients are excluded from the labelling laws it will mean consumers will still be eating unlabelled food containing GM ingredients, depriving them of an informed choice."

Several major supermarket chains, including Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer, are removing all GM ingredients from own-brand ranges.

In evidence last night to the Commons science and technology committee, Professor Janet Bainbridge, chairman of the government's advisory committee on novel foods and processes, said GM foods must be better labelled.

She urged a "major public awareness campaign to allow informed choice".

But she added: "I have confidence in the technology and the rigour of the regulatory process.

"Imposition of a ban on the cultivation or sale of GM foods would achieve nothing except jeopardise the competitiveness of UK industry.

"Despite emotive media coverage, there has never been any recorded ill effect to human health resulting from consumption of GM foods."

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