New regulations could loosen food labeling requirements
Experts said it is necessary to amend the law regarding labeling genetically modified organisms (GMO) after an agricultural official revealed on Saturday that his bureau is considering changing the existing law.
He Yibing, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture, said at a seminar on genetically modified (GM) foods that the ministry is researching whether the current labeling law should change, the Beijing Youth Daily reported Sunday.
China's Food Safety Law stipulates that all manufacturers are required to put conspicuous labels on products containing GMOs or ingredients derived from them.
Luo Yunbo, a GM food expert with China Agricultural University, told the Global Times that GMO labeling laws should set a GMO content threshold, below which GM foods will not be labeled.
In countries like the US, manufacturers choose whether or not to label GM foods. In Japan, certain food products are only required to have GMO labels if their GMO content surpasses 5 percent. In European Union (EU) countries, a GMO label is required when the GM content exceeds 0.9 percent, Luo said.
"It is meaningless to label all GMO products, as they do not harm people's health but only scare customers away," he said.
In China, the discussion over the safety of GM foods has drawn broad public attention since 2013, when GM food opponent and former China Central Television host Cui Yongyuan had an online spat with Fang Zhouzi, a science writer and advocate of GM food. Many people sided with Cui, questioning the safety of GM foods.
The Legal Weekly reported in September 2014 that 71 lawyers in China sued companies over poor GMO labels on cooking oil.
He Yibing of the Ministry of Agriculture stressed that labeling GM foods is not connected to safety. "The GM foods sold in the market are safe," He said.
"The labeling of GM foods is to protect people's right to know, it's not for safety," Lu Baorong, a professor of life sciences at Shanghai-based Fudan University, told the Global Times. Lu predicted that the government will look to regulations in Japan and the EU for references if it changes the law.
"We stipulate that all GM foods must be labeled from the beginning, because we do not have advanced technology to detect the precise proportion of the GM content," he said.
"After customers accept GM foods, we can gradually abolish GMO labeling," he said, adding that the law should also clearly stipulate the format for GMO labels.
According to Lu, mandatory labeling increases the cost of production, since it means that GM foods require separate manufacturing, transportation, inspection and sales systems, the cost of which is transferred to consumers.