Restaurants told to label modified food

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The Independent Online
ALL RESTAURANTS and supermarkets are to be forced to identify which of their products and meals contain genetically modified food, the Government revealed yesterday.

Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, announced that he was going to introduce rules "within weeks" to ensure customers could exercise their right to boycott genetically modified products.

A European Union directive, which requires supermarkets and other shops to label clearly which products contain the controversial foodstuffs, would be incorporated into British law, he said.

To give as much information to the public as possible, all restaurant menus will also have to list any genetically modified ingredients, a move that would mean the UK has the toughest labelling rules in Europe.

The move follows intense pressure on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from the Department of Health to respond to widespread consumer concern about the lack of information.

Green groups and others believe that so-called "Frankenstein Foods" may pose serious dangers to human health and the environment, and want more stringent controls on their distribution.

To date, most attention has focused on the controversy surrounding the planting of genetically modified crops in the UK by the American biotechnology giant Monsanto.

However, environmental groups claim that up to 60 per cent of processed foods are genetically modified and supermarkets are flooding the market without telling the consumer. Several products, such as tomato puree, vegetarian "ready" meals and cheese, sold by many of the big supermarket chains, contain genetically modified soya and similar ingredients.

Mr Brown said the genetically modified foods on the market were "perfectly safe", but the public had a right to know what it was buying.

"I think labelling schemes are very important in this area and I defend the right of the consumer who says `I absolutely demand the right not to consume genetically modified foodstuffs," he told LWT's Jonathan Dimbleby pro-gramme. "People are entitled to make that choice and they should be able to consume clearly with that intention in the market place.

"Indeed when they eat out, when they go to restaurants, they should also be able to consume food that they know does not contain GMOs [genetically modified organisms] - if that is what they want to do.

"There is a European Union directive now, and we're framing it so that it works in United Kingdom law." Asked when it would come into force, he said: "I would have said weeks rather than months."

It was revealed last week that the Health minister Tessa Jowell is backing a plan to use supermarket loyalty cards to monitor exactly how many genetically modified products are sold in the UK.

The scheme, drawn up by the Government's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, will use information from Safeway, Sainsbury and Tesco loyalty cards to compare the results with health statistics to see if genetically modified products have any impact on allergies, cancer or even childbirth.

Leading food and drink writers such as Derek Cooper and Fay Maschler recently joined a Greenpeace campaign against genetically modified foods, claiming that their introduction was "a genetic experiment on the public which could have irreversible adverse consequences".

Environmental campaigners are lobbying ministers to impose a moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified crops until more research is available into their impact on humans and other plants and animals.

The Mnistry of Agriculture has so far refused the demands for a moratorium, and allows limited commerical development of the crops. The ministry claims that the safeguards provided by the Government are sufficient.

Mr Brown also confirmed yesterday that an announcement on the beef-on- the-bone ban would be made within the next few days, and gave a clear hint that it would be lifted.

"I shall be saying something to Parliament soon, very soon. I have said very clearly that as soon as I could lift the ban I would do so. I want to do so," he said.