UK laws regarding GM foods and labelling

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healthy-foodRecently Small Footprints asked us about GM foods.

Although I’ve signed petitions against these foods, because they just feel WRONG to me; I’ve never actually looked into the UK’s policies concerning GMO food and labeling.

Small Footprints asked us to investigate whether GMOs are accepted in this country and if they are, whether they have to be labeled…

I visited two sites – the Food Standards Agency and the UK Government site.

According to the Food Standards Agency, they recognise that some people will want to CHOOSE whether or not to buy GM food; which sounds hopeful.

The Government site tells me GM crops are NOT being grown commercially in the UK, but imported GM commodities, especially soya, are being used mainly for animal feed, and in some food products. They go onto say “We’ll ensure consumers are able to exercise choice through clear GM labeling rules and the provision of suitable information, and will listen to public views about the development and use of the technology.”

The Food Standards Agency say that any food in the EU which contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or contains ingredients produced from GMOs 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.

However, they also say that products produced with GM technology (cheese produced with GM enzymes, for example) do not have to be labeled. I would have thought these products would come under the “contains ingredients produced from GMOs” genre, but evidently not.

The most worrying thing is that products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed DO NOT need to be labeled. I always advocate sourcing organic dairy, meat and eggs anyway, but this new information makes it even more important, in my opinion.

So here’s what is currently labeled:

  • Any product in the EU containing more than 0.9% GMO must state the presence of GMOs on the label (apart from products derived from animals fed on GMOs of course – sigh)
  • GM plants and seeds
  • food produced from GMOs
  • Food additive/flavouring produced from GMOs
  • GMM used as a food ingredient such as yeast extract
  • Alcoholic beverages which contain a GM ingredient

And here is what is exempt from GM labeling:

  • Food from animals fed GM animal feed such as meat, milk and eggs
  • Food produced with help from a GM enzyme such as cheese or bread
  • Feed additive produced from a GMO such as vitamins

If you want to avoid GM foods, then I would suggest the following:

  • Buy organic foods; at the moment organic products cannot contain GMOs. This is especially true for Soil Association certified, as they specify a threshold of 0.1% (the lowest detectable level possible).
  • Grow your own! Even if it’s tomatoes, strawberries and salad, it’s a start
  • Avoid some of the most likely GMO foods – corn, soy and rapeseed
  • Check out supermarket and supplier positions on GMOs
  • Buy meat that is labeled as exclusively grass fed
  • Ask the question – if something isn’t labeled GM Free, ask questions because perhaps it is and they’re just hoping you won’t ask!
  • Look at the list of what is exempt from GM labeling and find alternative products

I found something which I got very excited about – details of the four or five digit PLU code you see on fresh produce. It appeared that if the code started with an 8 it was GMO. (and 9 indicates organic) However, it seems the addition of the ‘8’ at the beginning of the code is voluntary at best, and maybe even urban legend at worst…

GMO labeling PLU codes

Ho hum; you win some, you lose some.

What about you – what’s the GM policy in your country? And do you care about GM foods or are you happy to eat them?

1 Comment

  1. [email protected] eco friendly homemaking on February 8, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Oh I don’t like GMO’s and try my best to make sure I don’t buy foods that contain them. Here in the U.S. we are getting a little bit better labeling but sure have a ways to go.

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