The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published the findings of research looking at consumer attitudes to the labelling of genetically modified (GM) food and the use of 'GM-free' labelling.
The key findings of the research are:
• Consumer awareness of the current labelling requirements is low.
• Participants were typically not seeking information or labelling with regard to GM foods. Only 2% of participants mentioned spontaneously that they looked for information about GM content when buying food products for the first time.
• There was a slight preference for labelling indicating the presence of GM, rather than labelling indicating the absence of GM.
• Labelling foods to indicate the absence of GM ingredients can result in a number of expectations. For example, participants expected a product labelled as ‘GM-free’ to be completely free of the use of GM.
• Participants were generally unaware of the use of GM animal feed by farmers. Once made aware of its use, they typically considered that products from animals fed GM feed should be labelled, consistent with previous FSA research.
The Agency commissioned the research to inform discussions within Europe about GM labelling and to ensure the UK public’s views were understood and represented.
The Food Standards Agency notes that some EU countries have introduced schemes where products can be labelled as 'GM-free' or 'without GM'. However, the rules of these schemes tolerate some GM materials (low level accidental presence, use of certain GM additives etc). The UK has not introduced any scheme to indicate the absence of GM. The European Commission is currently considering whether to harmonise these national schemes across Europe.
In the EU, says the FSA, if a food contains or consists of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or contains ingredients produced from GMOs, this must be indicated on the label. For GM products sold 'loose', information must be displayed immediately next to the food to indicate that it is GM.
Products such as flour, oils and glucose syrups have to be labelled as GM if they are from a GM source.
Products produced with GM technology (cheese produced with GM enzymes, for example) do not have to be labelled.
Products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed do not need to be labelled.