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6-Regulation: Switzerland calls for more transparency on GM food

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TITLE:  Switzerland calls for more transparency on GM food
SOURCE: swissinfo, by Billi Bierling and Faryal Mirza
DATE:   Mar 31, 2003

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Switzerland calls for more transparency on GM food

A government-appointed panel has called for more transparency in the food
industry, saying consumers should be given a better choice between
genetically modified and GM-free food.

On Monday, the Ethics Committee on Non-human Gene Technology argued that
the current labelling on food was misleading.

The committee, which was appointed to advise the Swiss government on non-
human biotechnology and gene technology, says all foodstuffs containing
GM organisms should be clearly labelled, irrespective of the percentage
of GM crops they contain.

Under the current law, food containing one per cent of GM organisms
(GMOs) or less is not classified as such, a rule which the committee says
deceives consumers.

Klaus Ripper, president of the Ethics Committee, believes that only foods
that do not contain any GMOs should be classified as GM-free.

"I think [labelling] is a very important point," Ripper told swissinfo.
"We don't think that our customers would [be happy] with the fact that
one per cent of our food is [potentially] genetically modified."

According to recent opinion polls, most Swiss consumers are against GM

Freedom of choice

The committee also emphasised that freedom of choice must be a priority
and that no one should be forced to buy genetically modified food.

"One of the most important points is that consumers have the liberty to
choose what they want to eat, especially those who are strongly opposed
to GM foods," Ripper continued. "Everybody should have the opportunity to
buy other food."

Scientists are still uncertain as to whether GM food poses any health
risks and most of the committee's members agree that more research needs
to be done to find out more about the safety of GM foodstuffs.

Martine Jotterand, a member of the committee, also called for research to
be carried out on other types of food that could be harmful.

"We have paid tremendous attention to GMOs, but it is also important to
consider other types of food that have not been studied so thoroughly,"
Jotterand told swissinfo.


Earlier this month, the Swiss parliament gave the green light to a new
law regulating the use of GM crops in food production, in a bid to
protect non-GM farmers and consumers.

The new law allows for GMOs to be planted, while at the same time
protecting non-GM crops from cross-fertilisation.

However, critics argue that it is almost impossible to prevent cross-
fertilisation once GMOs are planted.

Marianne Künzle of Greenpeace welcomed the decision that GMOs should be
tightly regulated, but expressed doubts as to its effectiveness.

"I am not sure that [non-fertilisation] this can be guaranteed in such a
small country like Switzerland. I believe there will be problems," she said.

Import only

While a number of GM crops can be used as foodstuffs and animal feed in
Switzerland, they are not allowed to be cultivated.

"Roundup Ready" soya, "Mon810" and "MaisGard" maize from the United
States bio-technology giant, Monsanto are permitted, as well as "Bt11",
"Bt176" and "Maximizer" maize from the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis.

According to the committee's brochure, Roundup Ready soya is used as a
weed killer, whereas whole soya, processed soya and associated soya
products are found in a wide range of foods, such as muesli and soya oil.