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3-Food: Portuguese environmentalists urge GM food labelling

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TITLE:  Portuguese environmentalists urge GM food labelling
SOURCE: Reuters, by David Brough
DATE:   May 17, 1999

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Portuguese environmentalists urge GM food labelling

LISBON, May 17 (Reuters) - Protesters demonstrated outside
Portugal's consumer affairs ministry on Monday, saying people
were being denied the right to know what they were eating.
Members of leading environmental group Quercus laid out a
selection of gene modified (GM) foods -- cereals, tomato ketchup,
cooking oils and biscuits -- in front of the offices of consumer
protection minister Jose Socrates, who did not appear. Quercus
spokeswoman Margarida Carvalho e Silva told Reuters the
government had failed to enforce EU regulations dating from May
1998 saying foodstuffs must be labelled as to their GM DNA or
protein content. "We want to draw attention to the fact that the
EU regulation is not being adhered to in Portugal," she said. "We
think that labelling is absolutely essential."

Few foodstuffs sold in Portugal are labelled as containing GM
ingredients. Carvalho e Silva said one problem was that it was
very hard to measure the extent of GM soybean ingredients in
cooking oils. The consumer affairs ministry spokesman, Rui
Goncalves, said Portuguese officials were urging clearer EU
regulations governing the labelling of GM foods. "The government
wants the labelling of GM foods to be more transparent," he told
Reuters. He said labelling of GM foods in Portugal, as in other
EU states, was rare because the present EU rules were complex and
tests to measure the GM content of foodstuffs were cumbersome.

Quercus spokesman Francisco Ferreira said, "Quercus and many
other environmentalists are not against GM foods, but we are
against the way they are reaching the consumer." He added, "We
want consumers to be told whether the food that they are eating
is genetically modified or not." A Quercus statement said, "All
consumers must have the right to be informed, via the label on
the product that they wish to buy, about aspects of its
composition that they consider to be relevant -- in particular
whether or not it has GM content."

Portugal is a net importer of cereals and oilseeds, and traders
have spurned U.S. maize in recent months because of concerns it
could include unapproved GM varieties, industry officials said.
The exact risks -- if any -- posed by high-yielding GM crops are
not known, analysts say. Critics say they fear GM seeds could
affect human health and hurt the environment via cross
pollination. Portugal's main consumer group, the independent
Association for the Defence of the Consumer (DECO), has said it
backs GM foods so long as people are fully informed about the
ingredients and manufacturers are made liable for any health
risks. Consumer resistance to GM foods in Britain has led some
retailers there, including Iceland and Marks and Spencer, to
refuse to stock such produce.


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