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3-Food: Australian citizen panel calls for strict labelling of GE food

mailinglist genet-news
Canberra, March 10-12th, 1999.


Label gene food, says jury
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
March 13, 1999


After deliberating through the night until dawn, a citizen's jury at 
Australia's inaugural consensus conference brought down a unanimous 
report yesterday recommending that all genetically modified (GM) foods be 
labelled. The 14-member lay panel also called, in effect, for a short 
moratorium on any new commercial releases of GM foods in Australia, or 
the importation of unlabelled ones, until a better regulatory system was 
in place. It criticised the present regulatory bodies, including the 
Australia and New Zealand Food Authority which assesses the safety of new 
GM foods, for not serving community interests. It said: "The 
decision-making process is currently inaccessible and open to bias." It 
recommended a new statutory authority be established to oversee the 
introduction of gene technology, and that its deliberations be public. 
"The speed at which GM organisms have been developed and introduced by 
multinational companies and the scientific community has left many people 
completely unaware of and uninvolved in the process," the panel said. The 
conference, convened by the Australian Museum, is a method used 
increasingly overseas for citizens to influence government policy on 
contentious technologies. 
After cross-examining 13 expert witnesses, the lay jury concluded that 
the possible benefits of gene technology in the food chain ranged from 
longer shelf life for produce to reducing world hunger. "But the 
potential hazards are largely unknown in the long term," it said. It 
rejected as too narrow the scientific definition of a GM food as 
substantially equivalent to conventional foods if it was 
indistinguishable in chemical composition, flavour and other physical 
properties. "Comprehensive labelling is the only way to ensure that 
health, religious, moral and ethical food choices are placed solely in 
the hands of each individual consumer," the jury said. In December, 
health ministers voted six to four in favour of labelling all genetically 
engineered foods, but there is pressure from ANZFA for some refined GM 
foods, such as vegetable oils, to be exempt from labelling. The 
Government, which has said it will establish a gene technology office, is 
considering the best way to regulate gene technology. The panel 
recommended that to ensure the highest standards of public health, 
regulation of GM issues should not be moved to the agriculture portfolio. 
A spokesman for the Australian Conservation Foundation, Mr Bob Phelps, 
director of the Gene-Ethic Network, said the lay panel had done a 
fabulous job. "It was democracy in action," he said. The executive 
director of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Mr Mitchell Hooke, 
said the report highlighted the Government's failure to inform consumers 
about the uses and benefits of gene technology, and the regulatory regime 
governing its safe commercialisation. "Whilst the Government dithers, 
scope for misinformation is rife," he said. Mr Mitchell said any 
labelling of GM foods had to be done in a meaningful, practical and, if 
required by law, enforceable way.

-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
-| email:

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