A spokesperson for Goodman Fielder said it was clear to the company that consumers would have concerns about possible unknown effects of genetically modified (GM) crops and, as a result, it was strongly against GM food products.
The lifting of the moratorium on the growing of GM canola in Victoria and New South Wales had caused the company some concern as it could lead to the food industry being unable to maintain segregation of GM and non-GM crops, as had happened in other countries.
However, this view is not shared by other members of the food industry that regard gene technology as having many benefits for manufacturers, consumers and the environment. It has been suggested that farmers’ costs might be reduced as crops with higher resistances to disease and weather conditions would need reduced amounts of pesticides, herbicides and less irrigation.
“This may have a flow-on effect to other areas of food production, reducing costs for manufacturers,” AFGC deputy chief executive Dr Geoffrey Annison said.
He added that benefits for consumers are said to include the ability to modify foods so they either taste better or promote and protect good health.
The AFGC did not anticipate that growing GM crops in Australia would result in notable changes to food production and consumption since only one crop, Canola, is likely to be planted in the next year and most of it will be exported.
“We are not going to see a radical change overnight in our food supply which will signal great regulatory or consumer interest,” Dr Annison said.
“In fact, there will be a system where both conventional and GM canola is available for some time, offering manufacturers and consumers a choice.”
A report released by Biotechnology Australia last year said public support for GM crops had risen to 73% in 2007, from 46% in 2005 as consumers had become more conscious of the effects of climate change on food supply.
Unilever commented that while it supports the use of modern biotechnology it will only begin introducing GM products if, and when, consumers are ready.
GM crops, sourced from overseas, have been used as ingredients in a variety of foods in Australia for over five years, having undergone rigorous safety assessments and been approved for sale by a council of Australian and New Zealand health ministers.
A total of 30 GM ingredients covering seven key commodities including corn, canola, sugar beet, potato and soybean have been approved for sale and consumption in Australia despite claims by The Greens that the safety of GM ingredients has not been proved.
The AFGC recognises the concerns over GM products but considers gene technology as one of a suite of technologies available to food manufacturers that can offer benefits in food production and for consumers.
Goodman Fielder sells non-GM products sourced from Australia in line with consumer demand. Should consumers accept GM products, a spokesperson said Goodman Fielder would respond accordingly.
It is likely that current food labelling regulations for foods containing GM ingredients will also remain unchanged, Food Standards Australia New Zealand has said.
Labelling regulations passed in 2001 state GM foods must be labelled as such if the DNA or protein in the final product is altered or they have an altered characteristic. Highly refined products like oil or corn starch that have no altered DNA or protein in the final product do not need to be labelled as GM, although manufacturers may choose to implement voluntary labelling systems.
Unilever said while it is not using any GM ingredients at present that require labelling it would be transparent if the situation changed, allowing consumers to make informed decisions.