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3-Food: Australian and New Zealand NGOs demand 5-year ban on GE food



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TITLE:  Australian green groups want 5-year ban on gene-tech food
SOURCE: Dow Jones, by Ray Brindal, ray.brindal@cor.dowjones.com
DATE:   July 28, 1999

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Australian green groups want 5-year ban on gene-tech food

CANBERRA (Dow Jones) - An alliance of Australian and New Zealand
green groups has proposed a minimum five-year ban on the
commercial growing and import of genetically modified food. The
call comes amid rising public awareness of genetically modified
foods and what seems to be increasing pubic debate about the
merits and health aspects of these foods, both in Australia and
European countries. Observers estimate that around 500 foods
available in Australia contain genetically modified ingredients,
with more expected on the market in the coming years. The groups
calling for the ban on these products represent organic farmers,
campaigners against genetically modified foods, consumers,
Greenpeace and other environmental action groups, as well as
health groups.

Bob Phelps, the group's spokesman and director of the community
based GeneEthics Network, said a ban is essential. Genetic
engineering is poorly regulated, he said, while engineered foods
are untested, unassessed and unlabeled, with the food industry
refusing to label the products. The call for a ban comes ahead of
an August 3 meeting of health ministers. Phelps said six
engineered food crops - soybeans, corn, canola, cottonseed oil,
sugar beet and potatoes - were approved for use in Australia,
pending assessment. The groups want the ministers to decide at
the August meeting to label all existing genetically modified
foods available in Australia or immediately ban them.


Greens Don't Assume Engineered Food Safe

"We reject the food authority's assumption that these foods are
safe to eat," Phelps said in a statement issued late Tuesday.
These "crops offer food buyers no benefits but impose the risks
of new toxins never in food before, higher residues of synthetic
chemicals and virus particles," he added. The call for the ban
comes as a House of Representatives committee this week holds
public hearings as part of a comprehensive inquiry into access to
gene technology by farmers.

The inquiry is investigating the value, importance and cost of
genetically modified crops, the ability of producers to compete
using traditional varieties, the appropriateness of current crop
variety protection rights, and opportunities to educate the
community about the benefits of genetically modified crops. The
inquiry is scheduled to report to parliament around March 2000.
The government, which doesn't have to act on the committee's
findings, this year has given strong support to the introduction
of genetically modified foods, with some safeguards, mostly on
economic grounds.

In May, the Australian Medical Association advocated the labeling
of all foods containing genetically modified foods, a call
sharply criticized by the Australian Food and Grocery Council,
which represents food manufacturers and retailers. The AMA said
the potential risk to the environment and public health from such
foods hasn't been determined. 



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