During 1997, the Institute of Grocery Distribution was one of many organisations that produced information for consumers on GM food. The text below is an HTML facsimile of one of their 1998 factsheets. Please note that it is now out-of-date, and has been included here purely for historical interest. There was no equivalent sheet regarding the labelling of GM maize products, since in 1998 Europe was virtually self-sufficient in maize production, all of which (for human consumption at least) was non-GM.
Will foods containing genetically modified soya be labelled?
[In the UK] Foods containing genetically modified soya are beginning to be labelled from January 1998 following IGD's voluntary guidelines for labelling genetically modified foods. The basis of labelling is that protein-based soya products containing genetically modified material will be labelled; products from genetically modified soya that do not contain genetically modified material will not be labelled. Examples of this are soya oil and lecithin.
Why are foods containing genetically modified soya being labelled now?
Until recently genetically modified soya represented only a small proportion (1-2%) of the US harvest; only a trace may have been present in food products. Following the last US harvest the proportion of genetically modified soya has increased to around 15%. Any food product that contains US grown soya, obtained on the commodity market, is now likely to include some genetically modified soya.
The European Union is currently reviewing labelling regulations for genetically modified soya and maize. Labelling is expected to become a legal obligation some time during 1998. In advance of these legal requirements, UK retailers and manufacturers have agreed to follow IGD's voluntary guidelines to label foods containing protein-based ingredients from genetically modified soya and maize, for the benefit of consumers.
How will foods be labelled?
The application of these guidelines within the UK food industry will identify genetically modified products in the ingredients list. Where space is limited an asterisk will be used with a statement nearby such as 'contains genetically modified soya'. European labelling regulations may require a slight change of wording at a later date, but the key phrase will be 'genetically modified'.
Will genetically modified ingredients only be present in labelled foods?
Companies need time to change food labels. Redesigning and reprinting labels is complicated and expensive, and new labels will therefore be phased in. Also, the agreement to label is voluntary. Until mandatory European labelling regulations are finalised, it is not possible to guarantee that all companies will comply. This is particularly true for food products imported into the UK - it is unlikely that products imported into the UK will be labelled in accordance with voluntary UK guidelines unless they are sold under a retailer's own brand label.
What should consumers do if they choose not to consume genetically modified foods?
Genetically modified foods will not be approved for sale unless the regulatory authorities certify them as safe to consume. Genetically modified foods provide several benefits, to consumers and the environment, as well as to producers. The existing genetically modified soya variety is equivalent to conventional soya from the perspective of safety, nutritional value and processing characteristics.
Many larger retailers and manufacturers will provide information to help consumers make an informed choice. Consumers who wish to have more information on foods containing genetically modified soya should ask for their guidance.
For more information
Other fact sheets available from the Institute of Grocery Distribution are:
For further information, contact your retailer's or manufacturer's customer care department or contact:
Food and Drink Federation, PO Box 6927, London, E3 3NZ.
MAFF Helpline, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, Whitehall Place, London, SW1A 2HH.
The Royal Society, 6 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG has produced a statement entitled 'Genetically modified plants for food use' which is available on receipt of an SAE.
© Institute of Grocery Distribution, 1998.