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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK


Rules push GM food off school menus

Many parents are worried about their children eating GM food

A county council is expected to stop serving up foods containing "significant" quantities of genetically modified ingredients to schools because of the difficulties caused by new labelling rules.

The European Union rules, which are due to come into effect in Britain later this month, say food providers must label any food with a significant GM content.

Food under the microscope
But Cambridgeshire County Council says implementing the new rules would prove too difficult and costly.

Its policy committee is expected to agree next week to stop serving foods with a significant GM content altogether.

A council spokesman said: "Labelling all foods which have a significant GM content is a very difficult exercise when you're serving school meals."

"Its not as simple as marking a label on a tin and we're not exactly sure how we would have gone about implementing the rules.

[ image: Some LEAs have already decided to stop serving GM food in schools]
Some LEAs have already decided to stop serving GM food in schools
"We've decided that the cost and the hassle of trying to implement the regulations is just too great so we will now rely on our suppliers to supply non-GM food."

A statement from the council says it acknowledges the move would not rule out all food containing GM ingredients, as some food has GM additives at levels below the labelling requirements, but it would go "a significant way towards it".

Research carried out for the council has shown that 39% of people questioned for a survey thought that GM foods should be completely banned from schools, and a further 29% of people called for clear labelling of products.

Only 7% thought nothing should be done.

The council says it that ultimately, it plans to give users of its catering services, mainly schools and social service establishments, the choice of consuming GM or non-GM foods.

It will consider the practical implications of offering this choice over the next year.

'Policies under review'

Council Leader Keith Walters said: "There is increasing public concern about the safety of food containing genetically modified organisms and I believe our proposal to stop providing food which we will shortly be legally required to label as such is the right way forward.

"But I believe we should keep our policies under review in the light of constant changes in scientific understanding of the subject."

A number of local education authorities have already decided to stop serving GM food in schools.

In February, the public protection committee of the Local Government Association (LGA) public protection committee agreed to end the use of GM foods in schools and care homes for five years, "to protect the public from the potential risks of GM organisms".

'Decision rests with individual authorities'

The vote was not binding, but councils were recommended to follow the LGA's advice.

The Local Authority Caterers Association, of which 85% of UK councils are members, said it was not able to instruct individual authorities as to what to do about GM foods - it could only advise.

Earlier this year, it recommended all its member caterers to instruct their suppliers to "take all possible steps to source alternative GM free products provided at no additional cost.

"It then rests with individual authorities to decide whether or not these products should be substituted."

But it said that the LGA's recommendations were "impractical to implement" because of "inadequate labelling requirements imposed on food manufacturers and the difficulties caterers have in identifying GM products."

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