NEWS

Pay attention to what labels on food packaging say about the contents

As of April 19, food containing more than 0.9 percent genetically modified (GM) organisms must be labeled accordingly. That is what the new European legislation stipulates, but a visit to a supermarket will reveal few such labels. Does this mean there are no GM foods in Greece, or is it that nobody is looking out for them and so none are labeled? The latter is closer to the truth. The new legislation specifies that products be labeled even if they have lost their DNA while being processed. This is the case with oil, which loses any trace of genetic modification when refined. The same applies to animal foods. However, the law does not demand that dairy or meat products be labeled, even when the animals from which they derive are fed on GM fodder. Every EU member state must set up a monitoring mechanism covering production all the way from the raw material to the finished product, and including inspection of invoices, laboratory testing and taking samples at all stages. Monitoring of labels was already mandatory, but now more care is required as the European moratorium on GM foods has been lifted and new GM products will receive EU approval and be readily available on the market. The measures, including penalties in the case of infringements, should have been drawn up by April 18. This has not happened. The only inspections entail taking samples, and there have been few of them. Compliance with the legislation has been left to the good will of the factories. «The labeling procedure and compliance with it has been left in the hands of the food industry,» Nikos Haralambidis, head of the Greek office of Greenpeace, told Kathimerini. «This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the factories – especially the large ones – have taken the issue seriously, due to the reactions from consumers, and many of them are willing to comply with the new regulations. But in fact, so far no state mechanism has been set up that can fulfill the requirements of the new legislation, no penalties have been determined, and naturally nothing has been announced to the Commission…» What to do With matters so uncertain, what do consumers need to look out for? – First, find the label on the packaging. – Since 1966, the EU has approved 33 GM products which are on the market. Of those, nine are used for various purposes (such as animal vaccines and tobacco), while the remaining 24 are used in the preparation of food or fodder. They come from four types of GM plants: soya, corn, rapeseed and cotton seed. Thus products derived from these are thought most likely to be genetically modified. – The problem is that practically every item of food we buy has one or more ingredients that derive from soya, corn or rapeseed. They are used in bread, pastries, biscuits, chocolates, chewing gum, baby food, oil and even coffee. – Every year, Greenpeace publishes a guide for Greek consumers with information about which companies and which products can be guaranteed as being GM-free, and which products do not come from animals fed on GM fodder. The organization takes samples and has them tested by recognized, independent laboratories to verify these claims. – Support companies that guarantee their foods are GM-free. Ask shopkeepers and factories, requesting official replies as to whether their products are GM-free, making it clear to all that you are not prepared to buy GM products, and put pressure on all those directly involved. After all, the only positive results have come from opposition throughout Europe.