Press Release – Television New Zealand

The Greens co-leader Metiria Turei has told TV Ones Q+A programme that consumers are not being given full information on food labels as to whether or not the product has been made using genetically modified organisms.

Sunday 29 September, 2013

Jessica Mutch interviews Metiria Turei

Consumers not being given clear choice around GM food – Greens

The Greens’ co-leader Metiria Turei has told TV One’s Q+A programme that consumers are not being given full information on food labels as to whether or not the product has been made using genetically modified organisms.

NZ currently imports 57 varieties of genetically modified foods, such as GM varieties of wheat, corn, soybean, sugar beet, canola, potato, rice and cotton. These are then used as ingredients in the manufacture of other food products.

But Ms Turei told Q+A’s interviewer Jessica Mutch that the food, once processed, does not have to be labelled as containing GMO ingredients if the amount if less than 1 per cent.

“I think what is really at the heart of this matter is the right of people to decide whether or not they want to take the risk, whether they have the right to choose to consumer GMO food or not,” Ms Turei says.

“Is the labelling sufficient to give families the information they need to decide whether or not to consume GMOs? People might want to avoid them for ethical reasons or cultural reasons, or for health reasons. The question is how much information are they given so they can make that decision?”

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is the body that regulates the standards developed by new technologies such as genetically modified foods. Enforcement of labelling is undertaken by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI); however, the ministry has not undertaken systematic monitoring of food labelling compliance since 2003 and says it will act if it receives intelligence of non-compliance.

MPI says there are two exceptions to the labelling of GM food:
– where there is less than 1 per cent (per ingredient) of an approved GM food in a product
– and where there is less than 0.1 per cent of GM DNA or protein

MPI says these exceptions account for occasions when manufacturers genuinely order non-GM ingredients but finds small amounts of an approved GM ingredient mixed in their product. In that case manufacturers cannot be expected to label for something that is not there, says MPI.

The ministry goes on to say: “our labelling system focuses on what actually appears in the finished product that is available to consumers. Where processing changes the composition of ingredients to the point that they are exactly the same as conventional foods there is no requirement to label. These foods are typically highly refined foods, such as sugars and oils, where processing has removed DNA and protein from the food.”

But Ms Turei says that by not labelling food manufactured from a GMO product as GMO, people do not have all of the information available to them to make the right choice.

“If we know that the food that is being brought in is a GMO food, then anything that’s made from that should be labelled, and that’s not the case. It’s also a real issue for New Zealanders in terms of the meat that we consume here, because stock feed that is genetically modified is not labelled. There’s no mandatory labelling for stock feed.

“So that stock feed is being used to feed chickens, pigs and beef— and cows in New Zealand. And so the pork and the chicken and the beef you eat may well have come from cows or pigs or chickens who’ve eaten GMO stock feed, but it is not labelled, and so there is no way for a consumer to know whether or not the meat that they consumed does have some form of GMOs as stock feed.”

While NZ imports genetically modified food it does not grow GM food here. However, there are also concerns about how a 12-country trade deal, which includes the US, may impact NZ’s regulations on GMO controls and labelling.

“The US have told New Zealand that our GMO labelling and restrictions on commercial crops here is a major issue for them with the TPPA. We know that the US has said the same to Europe over the Trans-Atlantic agreement. So the US is a huge exporter of GMO food. We should be concerned about the US wanting to break open New Zealand regulations on GMO controls and labelling. We need to set the rules for ourselves, and we shouldn’t have those rules dictated by the US.

“We mustn’t allow ourselves to be bullied by the US because they want to open up or break down our regulations on GMOs here,” Ms Turei says.

Research from the Sustainability Council in November 2011 shows more than 80 per cent of New Zealanders want GMO food to be labelled.

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:30pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz.

Thanks to the support from NZ On Air.

Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter, http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA
Q + A – 29 September, 2013

METIRIA TUREI
Greens Co-Leader

Interviewed by Jessica Mutch

JESSICA Metiria Turei, thank you very much for your time this morning.

METIRIA Kia ora.

JESSICA I want to start off by asking you why should we be so scared of genetically modified products? Because at the moment, there’s no science that it actually harms or kills us.

METIRIA Well, the science does show that there are safety concerns, and so I think what is really at the heart of this matter is the right of people to decide whether or not they want to take the risk, whether they have the right to choose to consumer GMO food or not. So there’s two issues here. One is are the standards that are set by Food Standards Australia New Zealand – the food body that approves these foods for consumption in New Zealand – are those standards being met? Are they rigorous enough? And then the other question is, is the labelling sufficient to give families the information they need to decide whether or not to consume GMOs? People might want to avoid them for ethical reasons or cultural reasons, or for health reasons. The question is how much information are they given so they can make that decision?

JESSICA Do you think that New Zealanders should have a right to know what we are putting in our mouths?

METIRIA Absolutely, they should have a right to know, and we’ve argued for labelling for many years now. We do have mandatory labelling in New Zealand, but there are some exceptions that means that some foods that are made from GMO products are not labelled. So if there’s less than 1% content in the food or if they are highly processed – like oils, for example. So not every food that is manufactured from a GMO product in New Zealand is labelled as GMO. So people don’t have all the information available to them to make the right choice.

JESSICA Because that’s right. There’s a total of 57 products – genetically modified products – that have been approved by Food Safety Australia New Zealand. I had a look at the list. It’s things like soy beans, sugar beet, a potato, wheat – things like that. They’re brought in, then what happens is they’re broken down and processed, and then they go off into other foods. And we’re not given a definitive list of which foods they should go into. Do you think we should have one?

METIRIA I do think that the restrictions that prevent some foods from being labelled are unjustifiable. That when the food is being assessed as safe by FSANZ and it comes under the GMO foods process, then that food or any consequent food made by that product should be identified as having a GMO in it. So in this latest case where GE-Free New Zealand is appealing a decision that Nikki Kaye has made to approve – it’s a herbicide-resistant soy bean. The papers say that that soy bean will be used for, say, flour, but it may also be used to make oil. Now, the flour is likely to be labelled as GMO, but the oil is not. But because the food comes in under a GMO standard, if you like, as part of the safety testing, then I think and I think many people think that all of the products that are made from that soy bean – that herbicide-resistant soy bean – should be labelled as GMO, because it’s known right from the time that it comes into the country that it is a GMO food.

JESSICA Because some people say that once it’s processed and the DNA is broken down, if you like, it no longer matters and it no longer harms it. Do you buy that?

METIRIA Well, there may be some science that indicates that, but at the end of the day, New Zealanders have the right to have confidence in the labelling of their food, and they do have the right to know, and if they don’t have the information available, they can’t make an informed choice. If we know that the food that is being brought in is a GMO food, then anything that’s made from that should be labelled, and that’s not the case. It’s also a real issue for New Zealanders in terms of the meat that we consume here, because stock feed that is genetically modified is not labelled. There’s no mandatory labelling for stock feed. And so—

JESSICA So what does that mean for people who are consuming meat, for example?

METIRIA Yeah, well, that’s right. So that stock feed is being used to feed chickens, pigs and beef— and cows in New Zealand. And so the pork and the chicken and the beef you eat may well have come from cows or pigs or chickens who’ve eaten GMO stock feed, but it is not labelled, and so there is no way for a consumer to know whether or not the meat that they consumed does have some form of GMOs as stock feed. So in Europe they are looking at mandatory labelling of stock feed in order to make sure that consumers know what the meat is that they are consuming, and I that we should be doing that here as well.

JESSICA Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? I mean, monitoring or looking at that labelling really does seem like a bit of a no-brainer. But it’s going to cost, isn’t it? It’s going to be money, and that’s going to be passed on to consumers.

METIRIA Well, that’s right. So, we got an OIA from the Ministry of Primary Industries asking them about labelling and the monitoring of labelling. They haven’t done any systemic monitoring of GMO labelling since 2003. Now, that’s 10 years ago now, and they say that it’s not a high priority for food safety. But actually, for consumers who want to know whether there’s GMOs in their food, either because it’s come in through FSANZ or because it’s been fed to animals, then, yeah, they do need to know, and there does need to be systemic checking and monitoring of the labelling so that people can have confidence in food safety. In New Zealand we know, after the last few scares, how important food safety is, both to our own community and overseas, how important our clean green image is in food safety. We can’t afford to take any risks.

JESSICA Talking overseas—

METIRIA MPI, of course, don’t have huge resources— Sorry.

JESSICA Talking overseas, though – when it comes to trade, some of our big trading partners say, “Look, we just don’t want food labelling.” What do you say to that? Do you think that New Zealand needs to be cautious of that?

METIRIA Well, it’s a great concern, particularly if you look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which is being negotiated at the moment. The US have told New Zealand that our GMO labelling and restrictions on commercial crops here is a major issue for them with the TPPA. We know that the US has said the same to Europe over the Trans-Atlantic agreement. So the US is a huge exporter of GMO food. They’re also the third-largest importer of New Zealand products as well, so we have a real concern here around the US—

JESSICA Don’t we need to listen to that, though?

METIRIA …kind of dictating this for us.

JESSICA Don’t we need to listen to that, though? I mean, shouldn’t we be worried about that?

METIRIA Well, we should be concerned about the US wanting to break open New Zealand regulations on GMO controls and labelling. We need to set the rules for ourselves, and we shouldn’t have those rules dictated by the US. At the same time, there’s a huge demand for non-GMO food. The Non-GMO Project, which labels food as not genetically modified, is absolutely huge. There are hundreds of companies and thousands of products. It’s an American-based project. And so we know there is a huge demand for non-GMO food that’s safe and clean, and that is where New Zealand can really make some in-roads with our exports. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be bullied by the US because they want to open up or break down our regulations on GMOs here.

JESSICA It seems with this GM issue that the Greens and other political parties have been pretty quiet on it for a while. Why is that?

METIRIA It comes and goes as an issue for the public. What we do know is that the Sustainability Council, for example, has done research showing that over 80 per cent of New Zealanders want GMO food to be labelled. We know that it is an issue for consumers, and so we pursue it from the point of view of consumers. New Zealand has already agreed, after the huge issue in 2002, that, yes, there needs to be controls on commercial crops here, and there does need to be labelling of GMO food, and there needs to be decent standard safety testing. We’re concerned that that’s not really what’s happening at the moment.

JESSICA So is this a deal-breaker for you? When you go into coalition agreements – whether it’s this time or next time – is this something that’s very important to the Green Party?

METIRIA It is very important that we have strong standards, that those standards are applied rigorously—

JESSICA Is it a deal-breaker, though?

METIRIA …and that the labelling—we continue with the labelling. Well, everything, as you know, everything is on the table after an election. But has been an issue we’ve campaigned on for many, many years and we’ll continue to do so. Consumers, families have the right to know so they can choose the healthiest choice for them and their families, and without labelling, they simply don’t have that option.

JESSICA Alright, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

METIRIA Kia ora.

ENDS

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