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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (2 September) . . Page.. 1731 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

Labelling of food is an ideal way of achieving this. There are already labelling requirements in place for food, such as requirements to list the ingredients of the food and any chemicals added to the food. Labelling to indicate whether the food itself or any ingredients in the food have been genetically modified is just an enhancement of existing labelling principles. In fact, if the makers of genetically modified food are so certain about the quality of their products, they should have no objection to labelling.

This issue is becoming increasingly urgent, not just in Australia but across the world. Since the export of the roundup ready beans started to Europe at the end of 1996, there have been widespread protests there by consumer and environmental groups concerned about the possible adverse effect on human health and the environment.

It could be argued by some people that labelling for genetic modification is too impractical because of the difficulties of detecting the genetically modified ingredients, but surely these problems can be overcome, as they have with the labelling of chemical additives to foods. It should really be the responsibility of the food producers to know what is in their products and to pass on this information to consumers via labelling.

The problems of labelling individual fruit and vegetables have also been addressed in the Bill by specifying that information does not have to be printed on the food itself but can be done by a notice displayed next to the food.

I think the ACT Government should take a stronger stand than what the Food Authority has done and require all food containing genetically modified ingredients to be labelled. I acknowledge that the current Minister for Health has taken a lively and strong interest in this issue and is supportive. The Government may raise the argument that the ACT always has to stay in line with what the other States are doing. However, this approach can only lead to the lowest common denominator approach to issues, which is a real barrier to innovation and reform, and a somewhat depressing stance. Someone has to take the lead and push the other States along, and we think it should be the ACT. The Government has taken a stand on other issues where it believes that the ACT should be able to control its own affairs, and we see no reason why it should not take a stand on food labelling.

I therefore urge the Assembly to progress this important Bill, particularly now that genetically modified food is starting to be imported into Australia, and that Health Ministers are being asked to reconsider this very serious issue at the end of this year.

Debate (on motion by Mr Moore) adjourned.

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