GM labelling may go ahead in 18 months

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 12:00am

A mandatory labelling system for genetically modified (GM) foods could be phased in within 18 months if a proposal by the Environment and Food Bureau meets public support.

Outlining options for a GM labelling system yesterday, Secretary for Environment and Food Lily Yam Kwan Pui-ying said mandatory labelling could be phased in after a grace period in which the industry could label GM foods voluntarily. Any pre-packaged food product with more than five per cent GM content would have to be indicated on the label. There would be no requirement for labelling loose foods, such as fresh produce, or food served in restaurants.

'We are adopting an open-minded approach, but it is a fact that a mandatory system will take time,' Mrs Yam said.

'The option of introducing a voluntary system now and a mandatory system later might be preferable because it provides a clear signal to the industry that it will become law.'

Consumer and green groups gave qualified support, but warned a timetable would have to be set for legislation. Greenpeace campaigner Lo Sze-ping said: 'A mandatory system should be introduced as soon as possible, at least within 12 to 24 months.'

But Mrs Yam said there was no urgency for legislation as GM food was not considered a health concern and international GM labelling standards were still being developed. 'If we enact legislation now there is a distinct possibility we may have to amend it again when there is consensus in the international community on labelling,' she said.

Supermarket chain Wellcome said it supported plans for voluntary labelling but was concerned legal requirements would unnecessarily limit shoppers' choice and push up prices. ParknShop also welcomed a period of voluntary labelling.