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British Columbia Proposes Mandatory GE Food Labels

Updated 5:12 PM ET April 5, 2001By Paul Willcocks

VICTORIA, British Columbia (Reuters) - British Columbia has proposed to
become the first jurisdiction in North America to require warning labels on
thousands of food products that include genetically modified ingredients.

"People have a fundamental right to know what they are eating," Attorney
General Graeme Bowbrick said of the Canadian province's planned law,
which threatens violators with fines and prison sentences.

Canadian federal regulations require labeling only if the genetic modifications
substantially change the nature of a food product or introduce allergens.

Bowbrick said the British Columbia law, introduced this week, will not
receive final passage until consumers and the food industry have had a
chance to comment, but an industry executive quickly cast doubt on its
effectiveness.

"Because there is no health and safety issue, the crops are not always
segregated. That only leaves the option to put things that are not really
useful to consumers like 'May contain'," Cruikshank said.

The law provides for the appointment of an advisory panel to develop the
labeling program. Farmers have turned to genetically modified plants --
derided as "frankenfoods" by critics -- in order to use fewer pesticides or
herbicides, and to reduce costs.

Cruikshank said a task force that includes industry and environmental groups
is already working on the issue of voluntary labeling for GM foods and is
expected to have proposals ready by the fall.

Canada has had national standards for organic foods since 1999 and it would
be "next to impossible" for British Columbia as a province to implement a
policy, said Myles Frosst, head of the Canadian Agri-Food Marketing Council.

Frosst said producers and grocers are working seriously on the voluntary
labeling program because they know there are consumers who will pay a
premium for unmodified foods.

"There isn't a farmer or a retailer or a processor in the country who is not
trying to meet that demand," Frosst said.

The labeling measure comes as British Columbia's New Democratic Party
(NDP) government faces an election, which it is widely expected to lose to
the opposition Liberals. The left-leaning NDP has been actively courting the
environmental vote.

Liberal leader Gordon Campbell said his party would consider the public
response to the measure if it forms the next government. The provincial
election must be called by June 28.

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