Voluntary GM food labels planned

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2001, 12:00am

A transitional voluntary labelling system for genetically modified food is the most likely option to be adopted by the Government, according to an official.

Mandatory labelling of GM food is to be brought in at a date to be set. The news comes as the three-month public consultation on GM food labelling ends on Thursday.

The government official, who declined to be named, said the two-phase option gave flexibility to balance demands made by the food industry, consumers and green groups.

'We have to play a balancing act. The consultation paper does not specify the length of the transitional period, which would allow the Government and the food industry to negotiate an acceptable time-frame to adjust to new labelling laws,' the official said. 'In the meantime, the Government could tell green groups and consumer advocates that a mandatory system is being set up.'

Three labelling options are outlined in the Environment and Food Bureau consultation paper: a voluntary system, a mandatory one and a voluntary system to be made mandatory after a period of time.

The labelling threshold has been set at five per cent of the ingredients, but it remains to be decided if products that fall below that level would be designated 'GM-free' or simply not labelled.

The paper said a purely voluntary system could be set up within a year, but would invite inconsistent labelling practices. A mandatory system would take at least two years to set up, to be followed by an 18-month grace period for the food industry.

It argued the two-phase option allowed for quick labelling to be set up while giving the industry time to prepare for mandatory labelling.

A spokeswoman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said the bureau would make a final decision after all public submissions had been examined.

Greenpeace campaigner Lo Sze-ping said the two-phase option would be acceptable if a mandatory system were in place by 2003. Frontier legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan said the five per cent threshold was too high and the two-phase option too confusing. Only a mandatory system with a one per cent threshold would be satisfactory, she said.