WINNIPEG, Manitoba (B)--Canada could implement voluntary labeling of genetically modified foods in 12 to 24 months, according to Bill Greuel, provincial specialist of oilseed and transgenic crops with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food. He added, however, that labeling won't appear on animal feed derived from GM seed.

Greuel was speaking Jan. 11 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

He said labeling of genetically modified products was inevitable, and the effort to provide labels for GMO products sold domestically partly reflects an attempt to avoid the potential for future mandatory labeling. Greuel indicated consumers want labeling of GMO products and industries such as the canola industry are feeling the need to reply.

"There has been a lot of studies done on (whether) consumers want labeling of GMO products, and the answer invariably is always yes," Greuel told BridgeNews in an interview. "And so if we are an industry that is bent on supplying consumers with what they want, then I suppose labeling is necessary."

Existing laws in Canada call for labeling of biotechnology products if there has been a change in the nutritional composition, allergenicity or toxicity, Greuel said in his speech. He noted that the Canadian Council of .

Grocery Distributors has driven the push for greater labeling. The group promotes the interest of grocery distributors, and represents about 80% of the grocery distribution industry.

"They looked at this issue a couple of years ago and concluded that interest groups will force the government to produce mandatory labeling if voluntary labeling doesn't happen," he pointed out during the interview.

A committee started by the federal government's Canadian General Standards Board is developing the labeling process. The committee's 55 voting members include the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canola Council of Canada, Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, Friends of the Earth and Organic Crop Producers, Greuel said.

The group should have a draft of standards and an agreed-upon label by February, he added. Public consultation will then follow before implementation.

"I think that in the 12- to 24-month time frame, we will have labeling standards in Canada," Greuel said.

He explained that implementation means having the food industry adopt labeling and get labels to the distribution chain.

"If we are talking about labeling transgenics, and if you really think about that, canola oil, soybean oil, corn meal, and sugars derived from corn, those four products are contained in quite possibly 60 to 70% of all grocery store items," Greuel said.

In the case of canola, for example, he said that labels would not just be place on raw oil products, but also on food additives and any other products using canola. Labels will be provided to tell consumers which products have genetically modified materials, and which don't.

Greuel said, however, that products such as canola meal, which is used as animal feed, won't be labeled. He said the industry feels that there are fewer consumers worried about animals being fed GM feed than there are consumers concerned about directly ingesting GM products.

He said that in general, the labeling initiative could be beneficial for the Canadian agriculture industry.

"I think labeling the way that we're proposing to do in Canada, it could have a benefit," he said. "Labeling the way the committee is proposing it is voluntary...Those consumers who want this product to be labeled, it will be labeled."

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