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Where Are the Labels on Genetically-altered Foods?
China is in the process of labeling the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are on sale in the market but not easily recognizable to consumers. No such labels have been found in the market throughout China three weeks after the authorities required all genetically altered soybeans, corn, rapeseed, cotton seed and tomatoes to be clearly labeled as GMO products.

This has sparked criticism from the country's consumer rights watchdogs who have called for those in charge of the labeling procedures to get their act together.

Agricultural authorities at various levels are still processing applications for the labeling of those genetically altered products China imports and the few goods that the country produces by itself, Fang Xiangdong of the Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday.

Since its rules on GMO labeling came into effect last month, the ministry has handled applications from 17 importers of foreign genetically modified products, including soybeans from the United States and rapeseed from Canada, said Fang, an official with the country's newly created GMO safety office.

"The ministry will decide on applications within 30 days after they were received," she said.

"So far, no decision has been made on any of the applications."

Apart from the label designs and samples, the applicants are required to submit safety certificates certifying their goods are harmless to humans, animals or the environment, according to Fang.

The requirements have ground imports of US soybeans to China to a halt, said Phillip Laney, chief representative of the American Soybean Association in Beijing.

Shipments of US soybeans to China have been suspended since early February, stalling a trade which saw 1.9 million tons of soybeans shipped to China between September 1 and December 6, said Laney.

Up to 70 percent of imports of US soybeans and Canadian rapeseed are genetically modified.

They are mainly used to produce edible oils in China, meaning Chinese consumers have eaten GM foods either consciously or without realizing it, according to Xia Youfu, a senior expert at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Fang claimed the absence of GMO labels in the marketplace at present is arguably understandable, since it takes time for genetically modified foods in the market to be labeled explicitly, given the massive efforts in the training of the staff involved and the dissemination of the labeling measures.

But both Xia and Ding Shihe, a division director of the China Consumers Association, said the sluggish progress in labeling risks undermining the rights of consumers to know the ingredients in the food they eat.

Since the safety of GMOs is largely a controversial issue in the world, consumers should be made aware if the food is genetically modified or not, they said.

Among the GMOs that are mandated to be labeled, China produces only anti-bollworm cottonseeds and tomatoes. The rest are all imported, said Fang of the Ministry of Agriculture.

(China Daily April 11, 2002)

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