When nutritional labeling comes into force in Canada later this year, manufacturers may also take advantage of the need to change their labels to stipulate whether their products' ingredients are genetically engineered.
However, the labeling is unlikely to be of much value as a marketing tool for food manufacturers according to Jeanne Cruikshank, vice president of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distritors (CCGD), one of the organizations leading on this issue, as she thinks most consumers are not that interested in the GM debate.
"For most consumers this is just additional information about a product that has already been deemed as safe," she told FoodNavigatorUSA.com.
For the same reason she believes it is unlikely that the labeling of genetically engineered foods will ever become compulsory, particularly because Canada does not have segregated crops.
The labeling discussion back in 1999, when the CCGD and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ruled that food manufacturers could not make any reference to genetically engineered ingredients on their packets until a standard had been drawn up.
After five years of debate, the interested parties finally came to the consensus they needed in December 2003 and a voluntary standard was published in April last year.
Cruikshank explained that there are basically three key points to the labeling - details of which are posted on its website .
First, for the purposes of the voluntary standard, genetically engineered is defined as containing a protein that would otherwise not be in a product.
Canola oil would therefore be defined as genetically modified because the plant that it comes from originally is from a modified gene, even if the final product is free from engineered proteins.
Second, products, where there are no genetically engineered varieties, such as apples or oranges, are not allowed to be labeled as free from genetically engineered proteins unless they state, for example, "just like all other oranges." Nor will producers with multi-ingredient products be able to highlight one ingredient as not being genetically engineered.
The third point is that every label must also display a website or toll free number where consumers are able to access more information.
Despite the agreement of this voluntary labeling, the first products are still to appear on the store shelves.
"We are still at the stage of discussing what the labels would look like," said Cruikshank, adding that research is being carried out into what the labels would mean to the consumer.
All pre-packaged foods in Canada will have to display nutritional labeling by 12 December 2005 and it will be interesting to see how many companies add any GM information. Moreover, with discussions underway about trans fats and the labeling thereof just beginning, the coming years could see manufacturers having to pay out for a another round of new labels.