Labelling of GM food and feed

In December 2001, Australia introduced labelling for the identification of GM foods. All foods must be proved safe before they are allowed to be sold in Australian supermarkets, and GM foods are no different.

The labelling of GM content in food products has been implemented to ensure consumer choice.

The Federal labelling laws require food or ingredients to be labelled "genetically modified" if they contain new genetic material or protein as a result of genetic modification or they have altered characteristics - for example changed nutritive values - compared to conventional food.

Products with one per cent or less GM content do not require a GM label, nor do highly refined products such as oils because the introduced genetic material is no longer present after the refinement process.

In April 2004, Europe introduced new gene technology regulations which saw the strengthening of GM food labelling. A threshold of 0.9 percent exists for all foods produced from GMOs and irrespective of whether or not there is DNA or protein of GM origin in the final product, it must be labelled (for example highly refined oils produced from GM crops). The labelling has also been extended beyond food, to include GM animal feed.

The latter two rules will require traceability, particularly in the case of the oils, because oil contains no DNA and therefore the end product cannot be identified through testing.

Also, while GM animal feed is required to be labelled, nowhere in the world have they introduced laws to label the end product, because it has been shown - in over 140 animal feeding studies - that approved GM animal feed makes no difference to the end product, be that eggs, meat or milk.

Numerous scientific studies have been conducted around the world to evaluate the safety of GM animal feeds, both on the animals themselves and their by-products. These studies conclude that there is no effect from feeding approved GM crops to livestock on the nutritional value or safety of meat, milk and eggs. GM animal feed, like all feed, is broken down during digestion, so by-products from animals fed GM crops are no different to those from animals fed non-GM feed.

In Australia over the past 12 months, Greenpeace, as part of its global campaign, has been lobbying for the use of non-GM feed, as part of its push to stop gene technology.

The campaign has focused on the chicken industry. Some poultry companies have responded by stating that they will adopt a "best endeavours" policy - whereby they will attempt to source non-GM ingredients for their feed, providing the ingredients are available in commercial quantities at a sustainable, competitive price and meet quality standards.

The sourcing of non-GM feed could also be challenging as the GM crop area continues to climb rapidly. The four major GM crops grown across 81 million hectares in 2004 - soybean, corn, cotton and canola - are all used in animal feed rations. In the case of soybeans, the world"s two biggest producers, the US and Brazil, grow increasing amounts of GM varieties.

Approximately 80 percent of the soybean crop is GM in the US, while 22 percent of the Brazilian crop is GM.

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