Confusion over GM rules in restaurants

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RESTAURATEURS ACROSS the country have expressed bemusement at labelling laws on genetically modified ingredients that came into force yesterday.

Out of the 20 restaurants surveyed by The Independent, one-third were not aware of the government regulations that require them to identify dishes containing GM soya or maize. All but two said they did not plan to modify their menus. Judith Wakeham, proprietor of the White House restaurant in Prestbury, Cheshire, said: "Could you imagine the state of the menus? Reading them would be impossible. It was simply not practical."

Most owners said they would not go as far as advertising their cuisine as GM free. While 16 said they did not use any genetically modified ingredients, four admitted they could not guarantee their dishes did not contain biotech foods.

Raffaele De Martino, manager of Casa Mamma in central London, echoed the view of many when he said: "To be honest, we don't know if we use any. All the ingredients we buy don't have labels. You can only take the suppliers' word for it."

And Roberto Cimelli, owner of Sasses Restaurant in Norwich, added: "We have to rely on what the suppliers say but we are the ones at the end of the line. This new regulation is a complete mess."

While most owners said they understood people's concerns over GM foods, some questioned the necessity of such a law which, they said, would penalise them and could prove as difficult to enforce as the beef on the bone ban.

Angela Davies, owner of Quay 35 in Newcastle, said: "If we have to label everything, it is going to be a huge exercise. At the moment it's only soya and maize but soon there could be more. That means we will have to check each ingredient. And we don't even know if there is a danger to the public."

Britain's biggest fast-food chains, including McDonald's and Burger King, had removed genetically modified ingredients from their menus in time for yesterday's deadline, according to Friends of the Earth.

The environmental group surveyed 11 leading chains and found that all said that they did not use GM soya or maize and would not have to label any of their food to comply with the new regulations.

However, the group highlighted a loophole in the legislation, which meant food outlets could supply meals that contained GM derivatives such as GM lecithin and GM soya oil without having to tell customers, as derivatives are not covered by the new rules.