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TITLE:  A) USDA reports on Hong kong GM food labeling proposals
        B) House commission works on GMO rules
SOURCE: A) Dow Jones, edited and sent by Agnet, Canada
ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚB) Jakarta Post, Indonesia
DATE:   both November 7, 2000

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


A) USDA reports on Hong Kong GM food labeling proposals

The following is the text of a report on proposed guidelines by Hong Kong 
on labeling of genetically modified foods. The report was produced by a 
U.S. Department of Agriculture attache and released Tuesday.


Report Highlights

The H.K. FEHD has proposed guidelines on voluntary labeling of Genetically 
Modified (GM) foods which have been passed onto the H.K. Retail Management 
Association for comments. One of the implications of this move is that U.S. 
suppliers may be requested by H.K. importers/retailers to report whether 
their food products contain GM ingredients. Also, this first step could 
eventually pave the way toward compulsory labeling of GM food, especially 
if consumer and media pressure continue to mount.

In response to efforts by Hong Kong retailers to formulate their own 
guidelines, the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has 
proposed guidelines on voluntary labeling of Genetically Modified (GM) 
foods which have been passed onto the Hong Kong Retail Management 
Association for comments. One of the implications of this move is that U.S. 
suppliers may be requested by Hong Kong importers/retailers to report 
whether their food products contain GM ingredients. Also, this first step 
could eventually pave the way toward compulsory labeling of GM food, 
especially if consumer and media pressure continue to mount.


Background

In April 2000, Hong Kong's two big food retail chains, Wellcome and 
ParkNShop, decided to form a joint working group by the name of InForm to 
formulate and propose guidelines relating to the sale of GM foods. Later 
on, the working group was enlarged to include the Retail Management 
Association (RMA), Hong Kong Consumer Council and the Hong Kong Food and 
Environment Hygiene Department representatives so as to develop a common 
industry position. In July, the RMA distributed some proposed guidelines to 
members and relevant parties, including the Agricultural Trade Office, for 
comments.

The essence of the RMA proposal is that food should be labeled as 
containing genetically modified ingredients if the level of GM ingredients 
exceeds 1% of the total. Also, the proposal called upon the Hong Kong 
Government to provide a list of specific genetically modified products 
which should be prohibited for sale in Hong Kong altogether for health 
reasons.

The Hong Kong Food & Environmental Hygiene Department responded by 
proposing an alternative set of guidelines, which have been distributed to 
the food trade for comments. FEHD's goal is for the revised guidelines to 
serve as a reference for the trade to provide truthful and informative 
labels with regard to GM food.


Guidelines on Voluntary Labeling of Genetically Modified (GM) Food

The main features of FEHDs proposed guidelines are the following:
1 Any GM food which is no longer equivalent to its traditional counterpart 
    in composition, nutritional value, intended use or allergenicity is 
  recommended to display an additional declaration indicating the 
  differences. This approach seems to adopt the concept of substantial 
  equivalence for the purpose of voluntary labeling.
2 A threshold level of 5% is proposed for labeling. This level would apply 
  to individual food ingredients and it would take into account 
adventitious 
  mixing of GM and non-GM crops during harvest, transportation, processing 
  and storage.
3 For foods of plant origin that contain animal genes, a clear declaration 
  indicating the presence of animal genes is recommended.


Comments

It appears that Hong Kong has taken a substantial step towards labeling of 
GM foods. This first effort at voluntary labeling will be used to gauge the 
industry's and supplier's responses and to test its practicality. Any 
problems experienced with the voluntary labeling guidelines can be used to 
improve the government's next policy formulation on GM foods. Also, the 
government may want to use this voluntary scheme as an interim measure to 
soothe consumers demand for GM labeling to a certain extent.

FEHD's changes to the RMA proposal may reveal key differences in the Hong 
Kong Governments position on labeling. The less restrictive treatment of 
substantially equivalent products and the 5% threshold more closely 
resemble the U.S. approach than the RMA proposal.

The enlarged joint working group will be meeting again in November to 
finalize the proposal if possible. The preliminary goal is to implement the 
voluntary labeling proposal by the end of 2000. Under this scenario, the 
finalized Guidelines for Voluntary Labeling of GM Food would be uploaded 
onto the FEHD website and would be distributed to major food trade 
associations. U.S. exporters can expect their Hong Kong importers to 
enquire about GM content of their food products and to request GM labeling 
on imports.

GM-free labeling, especially for house brands, may be attempted for a wide 
range of products by local importers/retailers, as a marketing tool to gain 
support from the media and consumer groups. As a result of negative 
propaganda on GM foods by green groups, retailers generally want to avoid 
having their products associated with GM properties. While the emphasis of 
this proposal has been on voluntary labeling, once a label is put on a 
product, it must conform to Hong Kongs food labeling law which prohibits 
false description.

The recent detection of Starlink corn in taco shells adversely affected 
consumers general perceptions of GM foods and prompted another round of 
demands for labeling in Hong Kong. Agents and retailers, at the advice of 
the Hong Kong Food & Environmental Hygiene Department, recalled all 
involved taco shell products from retail outlets. Greenpeace even urged the 
Hong Kong Government to stop imports of U.S. maize completely, warning that 
it might contain GM ingredients that could cause allergies. However, the 
government representative responded that there is no evidence to suggest 
other maize products currently being sold are unsafe.

In recent months, Hong Kong's general public has become more aware of the 
controversies surrounding GM foods because the subject has been widely 
reported in the media. In general, it is the negative side of the GM food 
issue which is reported, e.g. the Starlink incident, rather than the 
potential consumer and environmental benefits. Greenpeace frequently 
conducts anti-GM press releases and campaigns which are reported in papers. 
For instance, in early October it was reported that Oxfam and Greenpeace 
jointly conducted a telephone interview among 1000 people to gauge the 
publics views on GM foods. Findings showed that over 90% respondents agreed 
to the establishment of a GM labeling system. It is through such reports 
that consumers get to know more about GM foods. Also the easy access to 
worldwide information allows Hong Kong people to obtain updated news on 
food issues.

Pressure is great in Hong Kong to introduce a GM labeling law. The 
government is likely to present a formal report to the Hong Kong 
Legislative Council by the end of this year. The Hong Kong Government feels 
that CODEX standards will be too long in coming, given the disparity of 
views held by member governments. The current voluntary guidelines 
suggested by the government likely serve as a blueprint for Hong Kongs 
position on GM labeling in the future.

In any event, the Hong Kong government still has a number of problems to 
tackle before full implementation of compulsory labeling can be seriously 
considered. One of the key problems is enforcement, which will be 
tremendously difficult given Hong Kong's heavy reliance on food imports 
from all over the world, particularly from mainland China. China is an 
advocate for GM foods and its huge food shipments to Hong Kong will make 
Hong Kong's enforcement of GM labeling difficult.

                              *****


B) House commission works on GMO rules

Insisting it is taking an impartial stance on transgenic products, or 
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), House of Representatives Commission 
VIII for environmental, science and technology affairs is working on a 
draft law to regulate the controversial products. "We are neither accepting 
or rejecting such products. But we think that we have to take precautions 
over the safety of the products. That's why a regulation is needed to 
handle the matter, especially with the implementation of regional autonomy 
next year," commission chairman Irwan Prayitno said during a break in a 
public discussion about transgenic products at the commission's hearing 
room.

The only existing regulation which touches on the issue, he said, was a 
1999 joint ministerial decree issued by the ministers of agriculture, 
forestry, food and horticulture, and health. This decree is concerned with 
the safety of foods and natural products. "But the decree is only valid 
internally for the four ministries. Therefore, it must be reviewed," Irwan, 
a legislator from the Justice Party(PK), said.

The issue of GMO products continues to spark debate among the public. GMO 
are biologically engineered products in which genes are inserted fromone 
species into another to produce a new product which has desired and 
beneficial characteristics.

A researcher from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, Antonius Suwanto, 
said the debate was understandable, but stressed that Indonesia already 
trailed other countries in biotechnology issues. "Thailand has anticipated 
biotechnology developments by establishing the National Center for Genetic 
Engineering and Biotechnology. Singapore and Malaysia are discussing the 
technology to detect and determine the criteria of transgenic products," 
Antonius said during the discussion.

The government must determine such issues as biosafety, labeling, the 
examination system and regulations, prices, laws and the infrastructure to 
deal with these products, he said. Tejo Wahyu Jatmiko of the National 
Consortium for Nature and Forest Conservation said scientists tended to 
promote only the good side of transgenic products. "It's similar to the 
United States, whose Department of Agriculture only allocated 1 percent of 
its total biotechnology research budget, or around US$1 million to US$2 
million, to research the negative impacts of the products," he said during 
the discussion.
 

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