Early humans were masters at the art of observing nature, and understandably so, as often their survival depended upon it. Predicting natural events like severe storms, earthquakes, tsunamis and the like by observing behavioral changes in animals, hours before the event, gave them time to leave or seek shelter. Once they began cultivating crops, they also observed how insects pollinated plants, and were able to perform basic techniques like cross-pollination to develop better strains of staples such as corn and wheat. Little did they know that thousands of years later, their descendants would perform much more complex techniques in laboratories, and call it genetic modification.
Now called gene technology, these highly sophisticated techniques allow the production of foods that have particular desirable characteristics. However, as there were vocal consumer concerns around the whole process, strict guidelines were established by food ministers in December 2001. These guidelines must be followed to allow disclosure to the consumer. This disclosure is given on the food packaging containing genetically modified (GM) products.
GM foods are regulated under Standard 1.5.2 - Food produced using Gene Technology, part of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code). There are two mandatory provisions to the standard. The first is that there must be pre-market approval which includes a food safety assessment and the second is that labeling requirements must be met. Concerned consumers can relax knowing that only assessed and approved GM foods enter the food supply.
In Australia and New Zealand, GM foods must be identified on the food labels, so a purchaser can make an informed decision based on their own opinions and beliefs about genetically modified food.
The words 'genetically modified' must appear on the food labels and includes GM foods and ingredients including additives and processing aids from GM sources. It also includes foods which have altered characteristics such as increased levels of a particular vitamin, or requires cooking in a different way to a conventional method because it has been modified.
Requirements to labeling food products have a few exemptions allowed and provided for by law. For example, highly refined or processed foods such as vegetable oils or sugars only need labeling if they have an altered characteristic e.g. a refined oil with an altered fatty acid profile. Concerned consumers should research further if they are unsure about exemptions.
Packaging suppliers are very much aware of the regulations around the food labeling of GM products, and do their best to ensure that their packaging complies with the requirements of the Code.