The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) today rejected recent criticisms from some groups of the proposed stock-in-trade provision, as it applies to the labelling of genetically modified foods.

ANZFA invited submissions from interested parties three weeks ago on a proposal to allow retailers to continue to sell genetically modified foods in stock before 7 December for a period of twelve months after that date.

ANZFA's Managing Director Ian Lindenmayer said the stock-in-trade proposal is not a back door attempt by industry to delay implementation of the GM labelling requirements.

"I have read media reports which accuse industry of leaning on ANZFA to introduce this provision simply to gain a twelve month's delay in having to identify GM ingredients on food packages," Mr Lindenmayer said.

"This is a serious misrepresentation of the proposal, which has been developed to address a common problem that can arise when food standards are changed - what to do about food already in the system?

"The proposal reflects the fact that not all foods have the same shelf life.  While most foods are sold and consumed within one or two months, there are some which have a much longer shelf life and are still both safe and satisfactory to eat many months after manufacture.

"It would be indefensible waste to require these to be scrapped and very unfair as they were fully compliant with the standards when manufactured.

"There is a very rapid turnover in most foods on supermarket shelves and other food outlets.  As a result, apart from the minority of foods which have both low rates of turnover and long 'use by' or 'best before' periods, foods on the shelves which are subject to labelling under the new standard will, in fact, be required to carry such labels within two or three months of 7 December."

Mr Lindenmayer said all foods with genetically modified ingredients produced, manufactured or imported from 7 December will be subject to the requirements of the new labelling regulations.

These regulations require food containing novel genetic material or protein in the final product to have its GM status identified on the package or, in the case of unpackaged foods, near the food.

Mr Lindenmayer also said that, contrary to a recent media report, no GM meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and milk have been approved for sale in Australia and New Zealand - and none are on sale.

He said ANZFA would prepare a final report for consideration by the Food Standards Council after taking into account the arguments contained in the received submissions.

He reiterated that the labelling requirements for GM foods will take effect on 7 December 2001 and that the stock-in-trade proposal will not change this.