Labelling fails to identify GM foods on shops' shelves

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The Independent Online
THREE-QUARTERS of common foodstuffs sampled in supermarkets could contain ingredients made from genetically modified (GM) soya or maize, but do not say so on their labels, according to new research.

A poll of 2,000 people by the Consumers' Association released yesterday found that 90 per cent of people had heard of GM food, of which 94 per cent wanted such ingredients clearly indicated, and 92 per cent wanted labelling extended to include processed derivatives of GM ingredients. Helen Parker, editor of Which?, the association's magazine, called on the Government to clear up the "confusing" labelling for such foods, principally soya and maize sourced from the United States.

The research came as Tony Blair repeated his defence of GM foods. He said in a Commons written reply: "All GM food produced in the UK has been approved by independent expert scientific advisers." But the claim rang hollow, because no GM foods are produced in the UK. While products such as tomato puree made from GM tomatoes have been on sale in British supermarkets since 1996, it is made from tomatoes grown in North America.

In the new survey, Which? investigated 32 foods, including supermarkets' own brands from Asda, Safeway, Sainsbury and Tesco. None had labels declaring whether they did or did not contain GM ingredients, but only eight of the sample, including Kellogg's Cornflakes and Heinz Rice Pudding for children, could be confirmed as coming from a non-GM source.

The remaining 24 were claimed by the makers to be exempt from labelling, on the basis that the GM element could be an additive, used as a processing aid, or was removed in processing. "There are so many loopholes and exemptions that, even if the current labelling laws were fully enforced, consumers would still be left in the dark," said Ms Parker.

Although European Union laws insist GM foods should be clearly labelled, that is not possible where GM products are grown and harvested in the US, and mixed with non-GM product before shipping. Soya-derived ingredients such as lecithin - used in chocolate - and other GM ingredients that contain no protein or DNA do not have to be labelled.

The Food and Drink Federation, representing the UK food industry, said: "Blanket GM labelling of every ingredient derived from soya and maize would not be meaningful or useful."

The Environment minister, Michael Meacher, has ordered a review of new data suggesting that bees or the wind could carry pollen from trials of GM crops to fertilise standard varieties.

But members of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (Acre), which advises the Government on GM crop trials, yesterday rejected as absurd data released by the Soil Association, which represents organic farmers. The data suggests that pollen from GM maize can spread further than the 200-metre boundary around the plants.