Australians have the right to know if they are eating GM food say chefs

A leading Australian nutritionist and top Australian chefs have joined forces with Greenpeace in demands for the comprehensive labelling and testing of genetically modified (GM) food products.

Nutritionist Dr. Rosemary Stanton and chefs Tobie Puttock and Dur-é Dara, along with Greenpeace are launching a national petition asking for comprehensive labelling and testing of GM food products.

The petition "Our Right to Know" calls on Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, to introduce labelling and rigorous safety testing for all food derived from genetically modified crops.

Currently oils and other highly processed foods and produce from animals fed with GM feed, are not labelled for GM ingredients.

Canola is used extensively in processed foods, as cooking oil and in animal feed, and Australia's first GM food crop, GM canola, is due to be harvested in NSW and Victoria later this year.

Dr. Rosemary Stanton, who has written more than 20 books on nutrition, believes that the current process for assessing the safety of GM foods in Australia is inadequate.

Dr. Stanton says the long-term health impacts of GM food are unknown because appropriate tests have not been carried out and the products have not been labelled, and it is the absence of labelling information which concerns her most because she says consumers have a right to know what they are eating.

The food labelling petition comes as a result of more than 150 of Australia's leading chefs expressing their opposition to serving genetically modified (GM) foods in their restaurants.

The GM-Free Chefs Charter includes top chefs such as Tetsuya Wakuda, Maggie Beer, Bill Granger, Stephanie Alexander, Kylie Kwong and Margaret Fulton.

The charter calls for the thorough labelling of all food products containing GM ingredients and opposes the recent introduction of GM canola in New South Wales and Victoria.

Tobie Puttock, head chef of "Fifteen", says he always uses the freshest, seasonal produce he can find and he believes Australians have an almost unique opportunity to grow and source their own produce locally and naturally.

He says it is important that if GM products become a reality, then at the very least people know exactly what they are eating.

The concern appears to be that GM food will end up on our tables unlabelled through supermarket products and food from restaurants and takeaways.

Chef Stephanie Alexander says Australians should demand the labelling and stringent safety testing of all GM food.

Greenpeace says genetic engineering (GE) is a radical technology that takes genes from one organism and crosses them with those of another, enabling scientists to create life-forms that could not occur in nature.

It allows genes from bacteria, viruses, plants and animals to be inserted into soybeans, canola, corn and cotton and grown as experimental crops; these 'genetically modified organisms' or crops are processed into foods and sold all over the world.

Greenpeace believes that GE organisms should not be released into the environment because there is not adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health.

The suspicion is that as living organisms, GE crops can reproduce and once released, are very difficult to control or recall.

Greenpeace says current safety testing of GE foods is minimal and is almost always done by the biotech companies themselves.

Michelle Sheather, from Greenpeace, says Australians have the right to know whether or not they are eating GM foods from supermarkets and restaurants, and the Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, must introduce compulsory labelling and rigorous safety testing.

The petition also has the endorsement of the Public Health Association of Australia, the State Conservation Councils, Friends of the Earth, The Network of Concerned Farmers, GeneEthics, the Biological Farmers Association, Slow Food Victoria, the Organic Federation, MADGE, and the Organic Traders and Consumers Network.

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