Friday, March 19, 1999
Chefs agree on
detailing GM foods
By Kevin O'Sullivan, Environmental and Food Science Correspondent
Leading Irish restaurateurs and chefs have indicated they would have no problems should the Government follow Britain and require them to indicate if they use genetically modified ingredients in their dishes.
Britain has taken a lead in Europe by applying EU labelling regulations to catering outlets, with fines of up to £5,000 for those with inadequate labelling, in an effort to give consumers "proper choice".
Restaurants, cafés, takeaways, bakeries and delicatessens will have to comply. The measures specifically apply to labelling of GM soya and GM maize which are increasingly used in processed foods, but remain mostly unlabelled.
The measures were announced by the Food Safety Minister, Mr Jeff Rooker, yesterday. "We are determined that consumers should be able to choose whether or not to eat GM foods. This includes foods sold in restaurants and not just that available from supermarkets," he said.
The new regulations do not cover GM derivatives such as soya oil and lecithin emulsifier, as it was "virtually impossible to conduct scientific tests to verify their presence in foods".
Mr Rooker expected other countries to follow Britain's example. A Green Party TD, Mr John Gormley, said the Government should follow Britain's lead as such a meaningful measure could easily and quickly be adopted in the interests of Irish consumers.
The food writer and cook, Ms Darina Allen, said the extent of Irish opposition to GM foods was reflected in recent strong resolutions passed by the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Irish branch of Euro-Toques.
These called for a moratorium on release of GM foods into the food chain pending further research and include an undertaking not to knowingly serve GM foods.
In addition, the RAI chief executive, Mr Henry O'Neill, confirmed that members of both bodies were seeking letters of comfort from suppliers to ensure their products were free of GM organisms including GM derivatives.
The onus was being put unfairly on restaurateurs and chefs to ensure their foods were GM-free, Ms Allen claimed, yet GM foods were already on supermarket shelves "without proper labelling in the first place".
A leading Irish chef, Mr Conrad Gallagher of Peacock Alley in Dublin, said he had a policy of using organic produce and of not using GM ingredients. As he strongly opposed any move to "play God" by genetically engineering food, such a labelling move would have no direct bearing on his restaurants.
The part-owner and manager of Roly's Bistro in Dublin, Mr Roly Saul, said it would implement any new regulations, but did not use GM foods. "I don't think anybody knows enough about them. That includes scientists," he said.
British restaurants will not be allowed to use a "cover-all" statement on menus telling customers their meals may contain GM ingredients, Mr Rooker said. "It's got to say genetically modified or genetic modification. What we are asking restaurants to do is to be in a position so that if a customer asks if there are any GM ingredients to know; not to say `I will check and find out next week'."
Monsanto, the only company testing GM crops in Ireland, said it did not believe the action was necessary. It was also unworkable and unenforceable.
Greenpeace International has welcomed "two major steps towards a GM-free food supply": the formation of an alliance by seven EU retailers, including Superquinn, to source GM-free food; and what was in effect Monsanto's withdrawal of an application for a permit allowing its GM soya to be grown in Brazil, the world's second-biggest soya producer.
"This is the beginning of the end of trying to force-feed consumers unwanted and unneeded genetically manipulated food," said its campaigner, Mr Benedikt Haerlin.
Despite Monsanto's insistence that the Brazilian decision was a technical move, Genetic Concern claimed there were indications that the company was losing its battle to launch the GM crop there.
Controversy over indications of increased sensitivity of people to soya has led the director of York Nutritional Laboratory in Britain to claim he was misquoted in the British press. He had not linked the finding to GM soya. Mr John Graham, who runs a food allergy company, told The Irish Times it had simply noted "soya had crept into the top 10 foods associated with chronic illness alongside some beans, grains and fruits".
While this might be due to increased consumption of modified soya, it could equally be due to people consuming more soya of any kind, he stressed.
Ms Allen said this finding, nonetheless, was another indication that it was absolutely vital that more research was done on GM foods.