GM-free labels to help food sales
Sunday Times [Irish edition], 25 July 2010
A GM-free label for Irish food is to be introduced by the government next year in a bid to boost sales abroad, writes Sarah McInerny.
Ciaran Cuffe, the food minister, is consulting officials in the Department of Agriculture about how best to achieve verification and testing for the label ahead of its planned launch.
"Over 70% of consumers in Europe want their food to be GM-free, so there is a big commercial aspect to this," said a spokespan for Cuffe. "At this point it's realistic to say we'll be launching the label next year."
As public awareness about genetically modified products increases, the initiative is regarded as necessary to ensure that exporters of Irish food can remain competitive. A recent study in the UK by Gfk/NOP found that 64% of customers in the Asda supermarket chain want the option to buy GM-free produce; 75% said they would pay more for such products, and 92% wanted labels to identify GM-free food.
Trevor Sargent, a Green party TD, said the survey showed the need to make a GM-free label available for Irish produce as soon as possible. "The main thing for the government is to make sure that we don’t inadvertently find ourselves shut out of any European markets because we can’t prove that our produce is GM-free," he said.
"A vast amount of our meat and dairy produce is exported and we need to give the customers what they want. They've already started GM-free labelling in Germany, and other European countries are catching up quickly. Given that so much of our meat and dairy produce is exported, Ireland has to be ready to compete on the European market."
Cuffe has opted to introduce a voluntary label, similar to the one used in Germany. This will allow producers to apply for the label, pending an inspection. Cuffe's spokesman said that farming practice in Ireland meant it would not be difficult for producers to ensure that their cattle did not ingest any GM feed.
"We're talking about mainly meat and dairy produce here, and Irish cows are fed on grass for most of the year," he said. "There is only a short time when they are given feed, so it wouldn’t be too hard to make sure it's GM-free feed."
Eddie Punch, of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers' Association, said the move to introduce a GM-free label could give Irish produce a much-needed edge in European Markets.