CANBERRA - In an upset which goes against the official New Zealand and Australian Government position, health ministers from the two countries yesterday voted to require labelling of 'substantially equivalent" genetically modified food.
Ministers moved earlier this year to make labelling of food containing genetically modified
ingredients which do not imitate natural foods compulsory.
Yesterday they had to decide whether to proceed with labelling for foods containing
genetically modified material, which have conventionally produced food counterparts.
The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council decision means labelling will be required
for foods from plants which look and taste the same as their conventional counterparts but have been altered to enable herbicide tolerance or higher vitamin content.
Associate Health Minister Tuariki Delamere said yesterday's vote in favour of the labelling
had come out of the blue from a group of Australian state ministers.
The 6-4 vote in favour contradicts the official position of the New Zealand and Australian
Governments, as well as the original recommendation from the Australian New Zealand Food
Association (Anzfa). But it is likely to be warmly received by food activists who have argued that consumers should be informed of any genetic altering to food products.
In Canberra for the meeting, Mr Delamere said the decision represented a
cart-before-the-horse approach and it was still possible New Zealand could exercise its right to opt-out provisions should the final position prove unworkable. Mr Delamere told the council meeting he favoured delaying the vote in favour until a workable method could be set out, but he was outvoted.
Instead the council resolved that a product must be labelled if a manufacturer knows it
contains genetically modified material. If the manufacturer is uncertain, a product must carry a label indicating it may contain such material.
The regulations are scheduled to take effect from May 1 next year.
Anzfa officials had been asked to draw up a definition for genetically modified foods and
regulations for ministerial approval early next year.
Alliance MP Phillida Bunkle, who tried unsuccessfully this year to make the labelling of
genetically modified food mandatory, said yesterday's decision was a victory for consumers.