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Frequently Asked Questions on the
Guidelines on Voluntary Labelling of Genetically Modified (GM) Food
(for Consumers)

Q. 1 Are there any legal requirements on the labelling on GM food in Hong Kong at the moment?
A. 1 Under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), which provides the legislative framework for food safety control in Hong Kong, members of the trade should not falsely describe their food products. In addition, the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations require that any prepackaged food should be marked and labelled in the prescribed manner. Moreover, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (subsequently taken up by Centre for Food Safety (CFS)) has set up a Working Group to develop a set of guidelines – Guidelines on Voluntary Labelling of GM Food (the Guidelines) to facilitate the trade to make truthful claims. Although the Guidelines are advisory in nature and have no legal effect, the trade is highly encouraged to adopt the Guidelines to standardise the information presented to consumers.
   
Q. 2 When buying food, how can I know whether the foods have been genetically modified or not?
A. 2 The Guidelines formulated by the Working Group, comprising representatives from the food trade, Consumer Council and relevant Government departments stated that any food items with 5% or more GM materials in their respective food ingredient(s) are recommended to be labelled as "genetically modified" in parenthesis following the name of the food/ food ingredient in the "List of ingredients" or in a prominently displayed footnote to the "List of ingredients". You may check whether such declaration is made on the packaging on the prepackaged food products.
   
Q. 3 Are loose food items recommended to be labelled similarly?
A. 3 Currently, the Guidelines are only applicable to pre-packaged food (but not including loose food items) sold in Hong Kong and it is voluntary whether the trade adopt it or not.
   
Q. 4 Should I avoid buying and eating foods that are labelled as GM food?
A. 4 Labelling of GM food aims to address the issue of consumers’ right to know. However, it does not imply that the foods labelled as GM food are less safe than the conventional ones. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. To date, none of the GM foods in the market have been proved as unfit for human consumption.
   
Q. 5 As GM food may be allergenic, should I stop giving them to children?
A. 5 The allergenicity of GM foods currently available on the international market has been extensively evaluated. The World Health Organization stated that no allergic effect has been found in relation to GM foods currently on the international market. The allergic risks posed by GM food for all age groups, including infants, are in principle no greater than conventional food. However, the public are advised to avoid food items that contain any ingredients which are known to be allergic to them.
   
Q. 6 How can I know whether the GM foods of plant origin contain animal genes?
A. 6 At present, no GM crops available in the international market contain any animal genes. In future, it is possible that GM crops with animal genes will be introduced in the market. As such, the Guidelines recommend that if animal genes are added to a food of plant origin, information regarding the origin of animal gene should be provided for consumers’ information.
   
Q. 7 What other information could I obtain from the labelling?
A. 7 According to the Guidelines, besides declaring that the food is genetically modified, if the composition, nutritional value, level of anti-nutritional factors, level of natural toxicants or intended use of the GM food is significantly different from the traditional counterpart, information on such changes should also be provided for consumers’ information. Moreover, if the GM food contains an allergen that was not present in its traditional counterpart, such information should also be provided.
   
Q. 8 If a food is not labelled as "genetically modified", does it imply that the food is not genetically modified?
A. 8 Since the labelling of GM food is voluntary at the present stage in Hong Kong, a food product without such declaration does not imply that the food product is not genetically modified.
   
Q. 9 How can I know whether a traditional food has a GM counterpart or not?
A. 9 Not all traditional food has a GM counterpart. For example, at present, no "GM apples" are available in the international market. Actually, only a number of foods having GM counterparts are available in the international market. The most common ones include soya beans, corn and tomatoes. If you would like to know whether a food item has a GM counterpart, you may visit the webpage on "GM Food Database" in our website. This database provides the list of food products, which have gone through the safety assessment process and have been approved for sale in some countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
   
Q. 10 Is a food labelled as "non-GM" or "from non-GM source" really free from any GM material?
A. 10

According to the Guidelines, declaration that a food is from non-GM source is not recommended for food of which no GM counterparts have been produced, as it would be misleading to consumers. For example, as there are no "GM apples" available in the market at the present moment, if some traders label the apples as "non GM", it may imply that there are GM apples even though there isn't any in the international market.

Moreover, since there is a possibility of unintentional mixing of GM and non-GM crops, a truly "GM free" status is very difficult to attain. Therefore, absolute terms such as "GM free", "GMO free", "free from GM ingredients", etc. are not recommended to be used.

If a food product, which has a GM counterpart, is from non-GM source and the traders would like to inform the consumers that is the case, appropriate documentation should be available to substantiate such declaration.

The most important issue is that members of the trade should not falsely describe their food products. Such requirement is stipulated in the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132).

   
  For more questions on the Guidelines on Voluntary Labelling of Genetically Modified Foods, please click here.
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