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Discussions on the labeling system for genetically modified food 3

~The guidelines regarding how to label genetically modified food were discussed~

The 6th "discussion on the labeling system for genetically modified food" was held on November 17, 2017 and the 7th one was held on December 18, 2017. Discussions regarding "The methods of labeling genetically modified food" (point of debate 3 and 4, as follows) are still going on, and there was relative progress regarding the point of debate 4 - requirements for "non-GM" labeling. Thus, we summarized it here.

About discussions so far

At the 5th discussion on September 27, 2017, points of debate regarding the labeling system for GM food and guidelines on the scope of mandatory labeling for GM labeling were discussed. We summarized the discussions so far, based on above-mentioned points of debate, as follows.

  • Scope of the mandatory labeling

    - Point of debate 1: Discussion on the list of food items subject to mandatory labeling
    ⇒ (conclusion:) Maintain the current system

    - Point of debate 2:  Discussion on the scope of ingredients subject to mandatory labeling
    ⇒ (conclusion:) Maintain the current system

  • Labeling method

    - Point of debate 3; Discussion on a method of labeling for "GM" and "GM not segregated" that is easy for customers to understand
    ⇒ (conclusion:) It is better to keep the labeling of not segregated GM separated
    ⇒ (conclusion:) Mentions that are easier to understand than ‘GM not segregated’ will be provided as example in the Q&A

    - Debated issue 4: Discussions on the requirements for "non-GM" labeling
    ⇒ (conclusion:) It is difficult to solve the issues related to the decrease of the tolerable percentage of unintentional GM presence (to be discussed next time)
    ⇒ (conclusion:) The requirements for ‘non-GM’ labeling  are to be made stricter (to be discussed next time*)
    (* Update: It was decided during the 8th discussion that only product where GM are "not detected" are going to be considered as "non-GM")

As stated above, the current system will be maintained according to the discussions about the points of debate 1 to 3, but as for the point of debate 4, we can see that a rework of the system is under consideration.

About the labeling "GM" and "GM not segregated" (Point of debate 3)

The draft of "Guidelines on the method of labeling genetically modified food" submitted by Consumer Affairs Agency is as follows. As stated above, the guidelines have been summarized into two topics: "It is better to keep the labeling of GM not segregated" and "Mentions that are easier to understand than 'GM not segregated' will be exemplified in Q&A."

(1) As examples of method of labeling for "GM" and "GM not segregated" that is easy for customers to understand, please consider the following as one possible way of updating the labeling content. Please let us know your thoughts about it.

Use of alternative “GM not segregated" labeling(s)

- Replace “GM not segregated” for a labeling that may give a better idea of the actual meaning of this mention.
- Offer multiple choices of labeling that may give a better idea of the actual meaning of the mention, and allow people to choose one among them for their labeling.

(2) As examples of method of labeling for "GM" and "GM not segregated" that is easy for customers to understand, please consider the following as one possible way of updating the labeling differentiation. Please let us know your thoughts about it.

Abolition of the "GM not segregated" labeling

- Abolition the “GM not segregated” classification, leaving only two classifications of "GM" and "non-GM".

About requirements for "non-GM" labeling (Point of debate 4)

The draft for "Guidelines on the method of mandatory labeling for genetically modified food" -which was submitted at the same time - is as follows.

(1) By lowering the percentage of tolerable unintentional GM presence, the accuracy of the "non-GM" labeling will be guaranteed, which will likely contribute to the prevention of customers's misunderstanding. However, what is your opinion about the following issues?

- While it is getting more difficult to grasp the accurate percentage of unintentional GM presence since stacked GM plants are increasing, from the viewpoint of inspection, it is needed to establish an effective method which guarantees the accuracy of the analyzed percentage of unintentional GM presence.
- If ingredients are subject to a stricter control (because of above-mentioned decrease of the tolerable level of GM presence), the cost of ingredients may get higher. Also it is possible that the necessary amount of ingredients cannot be secured.

(2) By lowering the percentage of tolerable unintentional GM presence allowing "non-GM" labeling, the accuracy of "non-GM" labeling will be secured, which will contribute tothe prevention of customers's misunderstanding. What is your opinion about the following issues?

Percentage of unintentional GM presence Labelings to be expected
Over 5% "GM not segregated" labeling (mandatory labeling)
5% - α% ("non-GM" claim labeling cannot be used)
Under α% "non-GM" claim labeling (voluntary labeling)

Regarding (1) lowering the tolerable percentage of unintentional GM presence, there was a discussion about issues listed in the above draft (effective inspection method, increased cost of ingredients), but no conclusion was reached during 7th discussion. It will therefore be discussed next time. As for (2) requirements for "non-GM" labeling, the discussion moved toward stricter requirements. (*Update: At the 8th discussion, the policy to admit only cases when “non-detected” was confirmed.) There was concerns raised regarding the fact that it may lead to the disappearance of “non-GM” labeling use on the market considering difficulties related to the inspection method. In parallel, it was also reminded that the efforts made by business owners so far (classified distribution, etc.) should be considered.

Future schedule

The next discussion was scheduled to be held on January 31, 2018. The finalized summary is supposed to be reported at the end of this fiscal year (around March, 2018), so we would like to further discuss this topic again in our column. The documentation materials used during and from the discussions tell us how much we rely on imported foods and how difficult it is to control it. It will be good to read through this when you have time.

Reference:
Discussions on a labeling system of genetically modified foods (Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA))
Guidelines on the method of mandatory labeling for genetically modified food (draft)

March 2018