In 2001 Australian and New Zealand ministers cleared mandatory labelling for GM foods. These requirements came into force in both countries in December 2001. They require any food, food ingredient or processing aid produced using gene technology and containing novel DNA and/or novel protein or having altered characteristics to be labelled as 'genetically modified'.
"Only certain aspects of the new European Union requirements for GM food, which are based on method of production labelling rather than the composition of food, are more stringent," conceded , the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
FSANZ pointed out that one aspect of the EU system which is less stringent is that the EU permits accidental contamination of foods with small amounts of unapproved GM commodities in the food supply while Australia and New Zealand do not permit any unapproved GM commodities for sale in the food supply.
Indeed, before the new GM laws were cleared in Europe anti-GM campaigners had hit on this point, claiming that the proposed 0.9 per cent contamination threshold was too high and that zero tolerance should be enforced for a watertight system.
Knuckling down to industry compliance - FSANZ commented that two separate compliance surveys conducted by enforcement authorities in Australia and New Zealand and finalised in 2003 'found a high level of industry compliance with the labelling requirements'.
"Of the 168 products tested, all but one was considered to be compliant with labelling requirements. The non-compliant product was identified in the New Zealand survey and enforcement action was initiated with the product being recalled and the labelling rectified," said the watchdog.
Too early to tell how the European food industry, as well as importers, are coping with the new rules on GM foods, food makers had warned prior to the rules' entry that traceability and compliance would be the major challenges for all participants. The industry was also concerned that introducing such an extensive paper trail would leave the system open to fraud.