Manufacturers not obliged to label modified processed food

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The Independent Online
Within a year, a huge variety of foods and drinks on Britain's supermarket shelves will have ingredients made from genetically engineered plants inside them.

But a forthcoming European Union law on compulsory labelling of foods derived from ``genetically modified organisms'', or GMOs, will make very little difference, according to the British Government. The majority of them will still not have to be labelled.

Britain's interpretation is that under the proposed ``novel food regulation'' only living GMOs in food products will have to be labelled. Thus a vegetable which had genes from a bacterium inserted into it, or a yogurt in which the culture is live, would have to be declared to consumers on the packaging.

But products which had been processed so that the GMO was killed and its genetic material damaged would need no label, said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture.

Such products are about to become commonplace because the United States, the world's biggest food exporter, began growing GMO versions of two staple foods, maize and soya beans, this summer. Oils, flour and other extracts from these two crops are used in a huge variety of foods and drinks.

While the proportion of the total crop was small, it is likely to rise rapidly in future harvests. Furthermore, the GMO product is being mixed freely with the conventional kind soon after harvest and before export and processing. Thus the entire export crop has some, albeit small, GMO content - and so do all the foods made from it.

This poses a problem for British supermarket chains whose approach had been to voluntarily label food and drink items which have some genetic engineering content. They are now not expected to label all the products with some GMO content.

Most scientists believe pro-cessed and raw GMO products will be safe. But some people are uneasy about consuming food and drink from plants and animals which could never have evolved naturally or been bred by conventional methods.