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Food law updates needed

Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Elizabeth Farrelly recently hit the nail on the head when asking why we are happy to play gastronomic Russian Roulette by eating without question any morsel offered us on a plate.
She was questioning why many of us blissfully indulge in healthy looking meals without any thought for the chemistry set that lies within, and was dismayed that a recent government-commissioned review of food labelling was happy for this to continue unabated.
In his much-anticipated report on food labelling, former Federal Health Minister, Neil Blewett, made 61 recommendations, including improved country of origin labelling, and the adoption of a Greens' traffic light labelling system, meaning shoppers will know immediately if their food is healthy, or not.
But hidden among the recommendations is a gaping black hole giving a green light for genetic modification and extraneous chemical additives without a requirement to fully disclose this on the label.
How nice it would have been for a former health minister to prioritise the wellbeing of Australians before the bottom line of food manufacturers. Is it unreasonable to demand printed information on every label so consumers can judge for themselves?
For many years, concerned parents and consumer groups have led the call for labelling to provide precise details of the food we choose to eat, and many were pinning their hopes on the Blewett report as a way of edging the government closer to revealing the truth about safety and health claims about foods.
Recent reports on childhood obesity and sports stars spruiking junk food are classic examples of poor health occurring as a result of celebrity marketing instead of food facts. How sad is it that a well known fried chicken company is now synonymous with the nation's most popular sport. What kind of message is that?
The same could be said for the government's continued insistence that small amounts of GM product and certain chemicals are able to be present in packaged food without the need to declare it on the label.
When you are talking about undisclosed GM produce making its way into baby formula (as discovered in Australia last year), it becomes an ethical issue entwined in a parent's right to know, and a child's right to safe food.
How can we begin to address the problems associated with unhealthy and unsafe foods when our government refuses to push for complete transparency in our food labelling and advertising laws?
Our children are growing up with a confused outlook as they are torn between parents and teachers advocating healthy living and sporting heroes , governments and multinationals sweeping salt, fat, sugar, GM crops and additives under the rug.
The government must look beyond the Blewett Report, beyond its current food labelling and advertising policy, and consider the right of every Australian to know exactly what is in their food.

This appeared as an opinion piece in The Examiner 7 March 2011.

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