01.Consumers call for better GM food labels
Supermarkets are now full of foods with ingredients that are likely to be derived from GM crops, such as soy, corn, canola and cotton. The list of foods that could contain GM ingredients is endless and includes breakfast cereals, breads, cakes, biscuits, sauces, cooking oils, margarine spreads, confectionery, chocolate and snack foods.
But loopholes in food labelling laws mean that manufacturers don’t have to tell you.
When we see ‘vegetable oil’ on a label we have no way of knowing if its GM canola or cottonseed oil. Glucose syrup, maltodextrin and thickeners used in everything from biscuits to breakfast cereals are often imported from the US where they’re made from corn, the bulk of which is GM.
The biggest problem is that the Food Standards Code doesn’t even consider canola oil derived entirely from GM canola to be ‘genetically modified’. It only requires disclosure where foods contain detectable GM protein or DNA, so highly refined products like oils and the foods that contain them, are exempt.
In addition, many of Australia’s meat, egg and dairy products could also come from animals fed GM feed, such as canola or soy meal. Yet this doesn’t need to be disclosed on the label either.
Our GM labelling laws were supposed to allow consumers so see which products contain GM ingredients. Instead, we've ended up with a situation where the majority of products that are likely to contain GM ingredients don’t have to be labelled as ‘genetically modified’. When CHOICE went shopping, we struggled to find a product that was labelled as ‘genetically modified’ yet the list of foods that could contain GM ingredients is endless.
What's wrong with GM food?
Most scientific evidence suggests these foods are probably harmless, but lack of evidence of harm isn’t proof of safety. And much of the research into the safety of GM foods is done by the very companies who are producing the GM crops – they’re kept confidential and not subject to academic scrutiny. There are also environmental and ethical issues around GM food that may mean consumers want to avoid it.
While CHOICE can’t settle the argument on GM, we think consumers should have the right to choose whether they consume foods that contain GM ingredients or avoid them. The law should require full disclosure of any GM ingredients so that consumers have all the information they need to make a truly informed choice.
Read the full CHOICE report on GM foods.