Food labelling system 'delayed by lack of GM evidence'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2006, 12:00am

The government lacks a timetable to introduce a mandatory labelling system on genetically modified food because there is no medical proof that it poses a public health threat, officials told a Legislative Council panel yesterday.

'A mandatory labelling system is not suitable because the international community has no consensus on the definition of GM food and whether GM food can be harmful,' Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Eddy Chan Yuk-tak, told the food safety and environment hygiene panel.

'We always monitor developments around the world closely. We will move further towards mandatory labelling if there is medical proof that it is harmful.'

Legislators feared it would be too late to make labelling mandatory only when problems concerning GM food arose. Some were also concerned about the consumer's right to be informed about GM food's contents.

'I don't think it is enough,' Wong Kwok-hing said. 'We are not assuming GM food is harmful. But the government should guarantee consumers' right to know.'

Officials said the government discouraged food products being labelled as 'GM-free' because this might be misleading to consumers. In proposed voluntary guidelines, food products must be proved to contain less than 5 per cent of GM content to acquire such a label. Some legislators said such guidelines might require additional resources to combat false labelling.

'It depends on the government carrying out spot checks and proving whether the items have GM content,' said Mr Wong. 'How many resources would you [the government] give to the Food Safety Centre?'

Officials said his fears were unfounded and added that the department would follow up and test any questionable products. Mr Chan said a database would be set up to list items carrying GM labels, and information would be shared with the public.