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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 13:18 GMT

UK Politics

Fines back up GM labelling rules

Restaurants will be fined if they do not label GM food

The UK Government is claiming to lead the way in Europe by bringing in tough new regulations to force all food-sellers to tell customers if items contain genetically-modified ingredients.

Local authorities are being given powers to enforce a European Union directive requiring labelling of all products containing GM soya or maize.

Food under the microscope
These will be backed up by £5,000 fines for those who fail to provide full information to consumers.

In a written parliamentary answer, Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker said: "The government is determined that consumers should be able to choose whether or not to eat genetically-modified foods.

June Kelly reports: "All food sellers will have to label GM foods"
"This includes foods sold in restaurants, cafes and takeaways and not just that available in supermarkets.

"The UK is the first member state in Europe to take steps to ensure that consumers eating out will have the same right to choose whether or not to consume foods containing GM ingredients as those buying from shops."

But speaking earlier, Mr Rooker insisted no risk existed from eating the GM products already available in shops and restaurants.

Jeff Rooker: "This would only enforce existing law"
"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.

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."

Chef Anthony Worrall Thompson: "Customers should have a 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."

But Tory agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo said people buying food had to understand the information given to them.

"What we need is labelling regulations which give consumer clear, simple and accurate information about whether any food they buy in the shop contains any GM ingredients and if it is, in what proportion.

"Without that information any new regulations about labelling won't be worth very much."

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