GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 01st February 2005

GE Free NZ: Commerce Commission Warn Consumers 'Check Labels'

"Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware". That's the warning for consumers from the Commerce Commission which says it is 'powerless' to require clearer labelling of GM ingredients that would avoid consumers being misled into buying them.

Responding to a complaint that 'tiny lettering' on products like Stagg's Vegetable Chilli Beans was likely to deceive people into buying the product without noticing its GE content, the Commerce Commission says the government would need to change the laws on Food Standards before it could act.

The Commission says consumers are wrong to 'assume' any product is non-GE even if the Brand is a familiar and trusted one that had previously been GM-free but has now been formulated to contain GM ingredients. The Commission says that despite any likelihood of consumers being misled there is no breach of the Fair Trading Act unless the product "makes representation" that it does not contain GM ingredients.

"Consumers are once again being given the run-around' says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment." Its unfair to demand constant vigilance over a fundamental food issue that has been a major concern in this country for years with the majority saying they do not want it."

" It's Groundhog day, filled with empty promises. Its' not good enough for the manufacturers and supermarkets to pass the buck to the food authorities who then pass it to the Commerce Commission who them pass it to the politicians, and leave consumers to fend for themselves," says Mr Carapiet.

" When will an honest labelling symbol be introduced to allow people to avoid GE ingredients for whatever reasons they choose be they cultural, ethical, environmental or food-safety?"

"The authorities are incredibly slack and there are gaping holes in regulation. Apart from mainstream retailers now selling GE foods with inadequate labelling- how many Asian supermarkets are being monitored for compliance- and if illegal GE foods are on sale can the public be confident any action would been taken ?"

As well as writing to Minister of Consumer Affairs -Judith Tizard- to have the labelling laws changed, GE Free NZ in food and environment is warning people to check labels on food already in their pantry and be extra vigilant when shopping at supermarkets.

People on low-incomes and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to being misled as products may be sold "on special" or at a discount with the GE contents hidden on the back.

People should return such products and demand a refund. If they have already eaten a GE product they may be sick to the stomach about being misled but there is little they can do except avoid that product in the future.

Food manufacturers with a GE-free policy are also being urged to indicate it on product labels so people can support them and avoid GE imports when shopping.

"Despite industry fears that the Commerce Commission will prosecute companies using GE-free labels in cases of accidental contamination, the reality is that consumers want to know about a company's policy," says Mr Carapiet.

As the Commerce Commission bases its decisions on the view that consumers can no longer "assume" products are GE-free, then companies trying to avoid GE are not misleading consumers by declaring a policy - backed by a genuine and robust system designed to keep products GE-free.

Even without a guarantee consumers will support a company with a GE-free policy in the hope of limiting their own and their family's exposure to GE foods.

Despite warnings by the British Medical Association that the elderly, pregnant women, infants and those with suppressed immunity are at greater risk from negative effects of GE products, New Zealand food authorities are allowing GE to enter the food system without adequate testing, tracking, labelling or public health monitoring.


Jon Carapiet- 09 815 3370 or 021 050 7681


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