NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Identifying Genetically Modified Foods Is No Easy Task

October 26, 1999

After environmental groups in Europe fanned the genetically modified foods debate to near hysterical proportions, the European Union last year approved legislation requiring its 15 member countries to begin labeling all foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

But observers in Britain -- which has required such labeling since March -- say it has spawned a bewildering array of claims, counterclaims and outright contradictions, leaving consumers more confused than ever.

  • Although there is no credible research that indicates such foods are harmful, Britain complied by enacting the toughest labeling standards in all Europe -- even requiring caterers, restaurants and bakers to list genetically modified ingredients.
  • Violators in Britain can be fined as much as $8,400 and the government says it intends to conduct surveillance -- including independent lab testing.
  • The law has sparked a rush by manufacturers, retailers and restaurant chains to rid their foods of any hint of genetic modification -- so as not to have to change their labels and scare away nervous consumers.

But there is a stunning lack of agreement as to what constitutes a bioengineered food. For instance, the retailer Marks & Spencer uses the term "non-GM" on its products. "We would never call it GM-free," a spokesman said, "because you could never guarantee that."

Source: Steve Stecklow, "'Genetically Modified' on the Label Means... Well, It's Hard to Say," Wall Street Journal, October 26, 1999.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues