Labelling modified foods 'not practical'

February 2, 2001 The Canberra Times

ADELAIDE: Labelling all genetically modified foods would be practically impossible and hypocritical, biotechnology experts said yesterday.

The executive director of the Canberra-based Centre for the Application of Molecular Biology to International Agriculture, Richard Jefferson, said there were far more pressing food-safety issues than those posed by GM foods.

"What do we want to label it for? If people are interested in food safety why don't we deal with all the safety issues in food?" Dr Jefferson told reporters at a biotechnology conference in Adelaide.

"We have about 1000 people around the world die from eating peanuts each year which don't have a label. I question the hypocrisy."

He said GM crops could cut out the need for many insecticides and herbicides, which created bigger health and environmental concerns than genetic modification.

"Are we really concerned about safety and the environment and health of foods or are we being fatuous hypocrites?" he said.

"If [anti-GM campaigners] say they're spraying because it's natural, so is anthrax, so is polio and I don't think natural is all that much of a spin."

He said testing procedures for GM products were also extremely expensive and keeping them separate from non-GM products would require two different lots of transport and storage systems.

The director-general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, Per Pinstrup-Andersen, said moves to have GM products labelled in Australia would result in enormous administrative problems. "What do you label? If you feed a cow on GM soy beans, do you label the milk?" he said.

"If a roll has GM soy beans do you label the roll? If you have oil made from GM corn, which has none of the protein in it, should that be labelled?

Dr Pinstrup-Andersen said he did not know if Australia had an answer to such questions."In my opinion what's currently available in the market in the United States and 50 to 70 per cent has been associated with genetically modified products somewhere along the line none of that causes any negative health effects."

Australian Democrats science and technology spokeswoman Natasha Stott Despoja said people were entitled to be cynical towards calls for a more laissez-faire approach to GM exports.

She was commenting on claims last week by Dr Pinstrup-Andersen that efforts by European countries to force other nations to adopt their bans on GM products were a form of neo-colonialism.

Dr Pinstrup-Andersen said as long as developing countries had some GM regulation, they should be free to do what they liked, especially as they faced food-shortage problems.

But Senator Stott Despoja said Dr Pinstrup-Andersen's comments were short-sighted and ignored the real concerns of many people.

"While genetically modified crops may have some benefits, it is grossly irresponsible to dismiss concerns about side-effects," she said. More research had to be carried out into the risks of GM food and ways of minimising them.

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