GM food labelling helps consumers make an informed choice about the food they buy. It allows them to identify a GM food or a product that has GM ingredients.
GM food labelling is not about safety. All GM foods and ingredients must undergo a safety assessment and be approved before they can be sold in Australia and New Zealand.
How GM foods are labelled was decided by the ministers responsible for food regulation in 2001. Ministers reconfirmed these labelling provisions following an independent review of food labelling in 2011.
Do GM foods have to be labelled?
Yes. GM foods and ingredients (including food additives and processing aids) that contain novel DNA or novel protein must be labelled with the words ‘genetically modified’. This labelling statement is also required for GM foods that have an altered characteristic (e.g. altered nutritional profile) when compared to a counterpart non-GM food (e.g. soy beans with increased oleic acid content).
Where will I find GM listed on the label?
You will find the statement ‘genetically modified’ on the label either next to the name of the food (e.g. ‘genetically modified soy beans’), or in association with the specific GM ingredient in the ingredient list (e.g. ‘soy flour (genetically modified)’). If the food is unpackaged, then the information must accompany or be displayed with the food.
What about food I buy in restaurants?
Food intended for immediate consumption that is prepared and sold from food premises and vending vehicles (e.g. restaurants, takeaway food outlets, caterers) is also exempt from GM food labelling requirements. In these cases the consumer can seek information about the food from the food business. Information supplied by the food business must not be misleading or untruthful.
Food from animals that have eaten GM feed
Animals that are fed with feed produced using gene technology are not themselves genetically modified. Food products such as meat, milk or eggs that come from an animal which has been fed GM feed are not regarded as GM foods and are not required to be labelled.
‘GM free’ and ‘non-GM’ claims
‘GM free’ and ‘non-GM’ claims are made voluntarily by food manufacturers and are subject to relevant fair trading laws in Australia and New Zealand which prohibit representations about food that are, or likely to be, false, misleading or deceptive. More information on fair trade legislation is available from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and New Zealand Commerce Commission websites.
Is there a list of GM foods?
FSANZ is responsible for approving GM foods and ingredients for use in the food supply in Australia and New Zealand. These permissions can be found in Schedule 26 of the Food Standards Code.
We do not maintain a list of food products in the marketplace which contain GM foods or ingredients. Food businesses may be able to provide this information.
Exemptions from GM labelling
GM foods that do not contain any novel DNA or novel protein, and do not have an altered characteristic, do not require GM labelling. The decision not to label these foods was made because the composition and characteristics of these foods is exactly the same as the non-GM food. These foods are typically highly refined foods, such as sugars and oils, where processing has removed the DNA and protein from the food, including novel DNA and novel protein.
GM flavourings that are present in food in a concentration of no more than 0.1% are also exempt from labelling.
Labelling is also not required when there is no more than 1% (per ingredient) of an approved GM food unintentionally present in a non-GM food. This means labelling is not required when a manufacturer genuinely orders non-GM ingredients but finds that up to 1% of an approved GM ingredient is accidentally mixed with the non-GM ingredient.
Novel DNA and protein
Novel DNA and novel protein is defined in Standard 1.5.2 of the Food Standards Code:
Novel DNA and novel protein mean DNA or protein which, as a result of the use of gene technology, is different in chemical sequence or structure from DNA or protein present in counterpart food that has not been produced using gene technology, other than protein that:
- is used as a processing aid or used as food additive; and
- has an amino acid sequence that is found in nature.
GM foods with altered characteristics are listed in subsection S26—3(2) of Schedule 26 of the Food Standards Code and must be labelled with the words ‘genetically modified’, as well as any additional labelling required by the Schedule, regardless of the presence of novel DNA or novel protein. More information about labelling of altered characteristics is below.
The following matters are considered when determining if a GM food has an altered characteristic that would require it to be labelled as ‘genetically modified’:
- Whether the genetic modification has significantly altered the composition or nutritional qualities compared to the existing counterpart non-GM food.
- Whether the intended use of the GM food is different to the existing counterpart non-GM food.
FSANZ also considers if additional labelling about the nature of any altered characteristic is required. For example, additional labelling is required for high lysine corn which indicates that it has been genetically modified to contain increased levels of lysine.
FSANZ determines whether a food has altered characteristics in our assessment for each approved GM food. See Current GM applications and approvals for links to our assessment reports.