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Australian consumer turns back on GM ingredients

12-Feb-2004

The tide is turning down under with a new poll showing Australians are increasingly worried about genetically modified foods and the risk they could pose to human health and the environment.

Initiated by Biotechnology Australia, the government's biotech agency, the survey found that the majority of people would not eat GM foods and opposed their use by farmers.

The poll tracked more than 1,000 people over the past four years to measure changes in attitudes towards GM products. Only two GM crops - cotton and carnations - are commercially grown in Australia, and although GM canola has been approved for use state bans are preventing the commercial planting of the GM canola varieties.

Since 2001 there has been 'a dramatic decline in the number of Australians who say they would eat foods that have been genetically modified to be healthier, or taste better with 58 per cent rejecting the idea altogether,?/I> reports Milward Brown that conducted the survey on behalf of the government.

Eighty per cent of respondents said they were concerned about the use of gene technology in food, although there was slightly less concern about its use in human health applications.

A rise in number of people opting for traditional, non-GM, methods for use in the breeding of plants and animals increased 10 percentage points to 56 per cent.

In the pathway from paddock to plate, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator in Australia is not the only regulatory body that must assess a GM product.

All GM foods in Australia and New Zealand must be assessed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), determined to be safe, and approved by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council (ANZFSC) - made up of Australian Commonwealth, State and Territory Health ministers, and the New Zealand Health Minister, before they can be legally sold.

Producers of GM foods must apply to FSANZ to seek approval for the food to enter the food supply in Australia (and New Zealand). This application is made at the commodity level - that is, as a new primary product (for example, Bt corn). Until that commodity is approved, foods containing it, or ingredients derived from it, cannot be lawfully sold.

Media reports in the Australian press last week warned that GM a free trade deal with the United States - currently under discussion - could mean Australians had even less details on food labels about genetically modified ingredients.

An internet survey carried out by the Australian Consumers Association (ACA) found 84 per cent of people were worried about eating so-called Frankenstein food and 94 per cent wanted comprehensive food labelling.

ACA's food policy officer Clare Hughes said disclosure of GM foods on labels already lagged well behind European standards, reports the Australian Associated Press.

"The US has made no secret of the fact that it sees our GM labelling laws as a barrier to trade. If (Prime Minister John) Howard trades away out GM labelling laws Australian consumers, like their US cousins, will be left in the dark about the GM status of their food," she said in the latest edition of ACA's magazine, Consuming Interest.

Turning to Europe, next week the Commission is expected to reach a decision on the authorisation for the GM maize NK603 supplied by US biotech giant Monsanto. A key vote that could in fact put an en to the European Union's moratorium on GM crops. The maize was recently given the 'risk-clear?from Europe's food watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority.

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