GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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Australia/New Zealand GMO Labeling Fight



      By Michael Byrnes 

    SYDNEY, Australia (Reuter) - Battle lines are being drawn in Australia
and New Zealand over an official proposal that they introduce the world's
toughest standards in the burgeoning genetically modified food products
industry. 

    The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA), a bi-national body set
up in mid-1996, is calling for public comment on a draft standard which has
set off alarm bells in Australia's food industry. 

    The standard would ban all genetically modified food products unless
specifically approved. It also would require all products which contain even
the smallest amounts of genetically modified food products, if approved for
sale, to be strictly labelled. 

    ``Absolutely miniscule percentages would have to be labeled. Virtually
everything on the supermarket shelf would have to be labeled. It's
overkill,'' said Pam Saunders, spokeswoman for the Australian Food Council. 

    With new regulations likely to be introduced later this year, the
battle's frontline has been a boatload of U.S. soybean imports, which arrived
in Australia last December. 

    ``The gene bean has landed! But Australian consumers are left in the
dark,'' the Australian Consumers' Association, said in a statement. 

    The consumers' association is now pressing for all products that contain
genetically modified material to be individually approved and then labeled. 

    The food council says the consumer association would put Australia out of
line with regulations in the United States and Europe and make nonsense of
labeling requirements. 

    More than 50 percent of processed food around the world contains has some
kind of soybean derivatives. To require labeling of products with even
miniscule genetically altered content ``makes a bit of a nonsense out of
it,'' Saunders said. 

    Genetically modified soybeans are the only product now on sale in
Australia that would be affected by the proposed new code. 

    Australian imports about 100,000 tons of soybeans a year. The December
shipment contained the first genetically modified U.S. soybeans from Monsanto
Corp.'s Roundup Ready beans, which form about 2 percent of the U.S. crop. 

    But more genetically modified products are on the way. 

    Later this year, genetically modified cottonseed oil will be on sale or
contained in other products on supermarket shelves. 

    Monsanto, which produced the technology for both genetically modified
soybean and cotton, is also working on new crops, with corn, canola (rapeseed
oil), sugar beet, tomatoes and potatos all under active genetic development. 

    Genetically modified U.S. corn is likely to be the third such product to
reach Australia --- if allowed in. 

    The consumers' association is concerned that without labeling, consumers
have no way of knowing that genetically modified material is in their food. 

    ANZFA assessment guidelines also state that consumer concerns exist over
potential nutritional, toxic and allergenic effects of introduced genes in
food products. 

    Australia does not see itself as a world leader in regulating the
industry, but is recognized as taking a different approach from the U.S.
voluntary system and from the European Union, which is considering compulsory
assessment. 

    Nevertheless Australia's proposed labeling requirements are more
stringent than regulations in Europe, while its 12-month review process for
changes to its Food Standards Code are also more stringent than European
processes, said ANZFA. 

    Monsanto, which leads world gene technology development, politely
supports the food industry stand. 

    Monsanto agreed with the ANZFA guidelines in principle but would be
``offering some comments (on) specifics and detail,'' said Marion Sheers,
regulatory manager for Monsanto Australia. 

    Battlelines appear to be narrowing on detail already. 

    The Australian Food Council is not disputing the first two of five
proposed new ANZFA labeling guidelines, which require labeling when
genetically modified foods or ingredients are not equivalent to conventional
foods and when health implications are involved. 

    These requirements are in line with U.S. regulations. 

    The food council does not agree with a third proposed labeling guideline
on ethical concerns over genetically modified food components. It recognized,
however, that this guideline was part of European requirements, the AFC's
Saunders said. 

    The food coundil rejects proposals four and five, which require labeling
of products when any genetically modified living organisms are involved or
when genetically modified ingredients make up more than 5 percent of the food
at the time of manufacture. 



14:50 02-26-97