Select Committee on Environmental Audit Fifth Report


  GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT:   COORDINATION OF GOVERNMENT POLICY

Labelling for process

50. It is Government's policy that every product containing GMOs, or GM materials (protein or DNA) should be clearly labelled to enable consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat.[93] The Government is pressing the Commission for detailed labelling rules also on additives and on animal feed. The Government stated that all Member States and the European Parliament agreed that labelling should be triggered by the presence of GM material with agreement on a de minimis level yet to be agreed.

51. This principle satisfies the concerns of those who do not want to eat GMOs or GM materials (above as yet undetermined thresholds). A further level of consumer choice might be provided by the labelling of all products derived from GM technology (logically this approach would extend to processes involving GM enzymes or non-food products such as jeans made of GM 'blue' cotton when and if they come available). This would allow the consumer to reject the technology on grounds other than health and safety (religious, ethical or environmental) and is termed "labelling for process". The Government's memorandum described a statutory requirement to label ingredients which did not actually contain GM materials as "unenforceable". Some have argued that this approach would be meaningless and carry the implication that all food have labels identifying what fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides etc. were used in its production.[94] We accept that such a requirement would be difficult to enforce, having to rely on audit rather than detection, but this is not an insurmountable objection and there are existing voluntary marketing approaches for other foods that rely on similar methods of verification. Indeed Mr Rooker gave us the example of beef labelled for method of slaughter and the more familiar example of eggs labelled for method of production was also suggested.[95]

52. We believe that there is likely to be an ever-growing demand for information about the food we eat - both about its constituent ingredients and the processes by which it has been produced and the wider impacts that those processes have (from ethical coffee to environmental tea). The market may be relied on to attempt to meet that demand and increasing numbers of producers and retailers have responded to recent concerns over GM foods by removing GMOs from shelves and from products. It is vital that voluntary labels, and other initiatives, are understandable and consistent and backed up by verifiable audit trails. We recognise that a requirement to label for process with regard to GM-derived foods may not be a cost-effective answer to the need at the moment. Whilst recognising the difficulties in securing labelling for process we regard it as a valuable goal and urge the Government to work with industry to achieve it.


93  Ev p63 Back

94  HL 11, paragraph 137 Back

95  Q391 Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 13 May 1999