Moscow shoppers given choice on GM food

Muscovites who want to avoid genetically modified ingredients in their food are being given a helping hand. The city's authorities have introduced a legal requirement for food manufactures to clearly mark whether their products are GM free.

Doing the weekly shop has never been easier in Moscow. Whether it is the basics, or something a little more indulgent, most supermarkets have everything you need. Finding out about your food’s background, though, has always been much more difficult. Until now Muscovites had to guess whether what they were eating was completely natural or had a helping hand from science. 

However, all that is about to change. From July 1 a new law in the capital will let manufacturers whose products pass a series of tests label their food GM free.

Genetically modified food has been a controversial subject for many years.  Supporters have argued that GM ingredients can increase crop yields while opponents say they have unpredictable health risks. 

With debate still raging, Moscow authorities say their new scheme can help consumers make up their own minds.

“The purpose is to give the public greater choice and help them not get lost in the wide assortment of foodstuffs offered in our shops.  As we know, currently products are marked with small print and many consumers cannot make it out,” Valery Shatilov from Moscow Consumer Service comments the initiative.

Before an item can be marked GM free, it needs to be examined in a lab.  DNA is extracted from the product, and it is a fairly straighforward procedure to determine whether it contains genetically modified ingredients.  

Environmentalist groups have cautiously welcomed the new scheme but also have some serious concerns.

“Greenpeace supports most of the steps taken by the Moscow government but unfortunately the programme is flawed.  The method used to test products is unpopular worldwide.  It was only invented five years ago in Russia and we don’t trust it.  We see it can lead to incorrect results, so many companies will be unfairly blamed for using genetically modified ingredients,” explains Natalia Oliferenko from Greenpeace Russia.

Besides, some figures in the food industry feel that the initiative not only penalises manufacturers but could also prove more of a hindrance than a help to the public.

“It was declared voluntary but became compulsory, and we are under pressure from the biggest Moscow retailers now, who ask to put these labels on our products,” says Aleksey Popovichev, Executive Director of RussBrand, pointing out the inconsistency of the government authorities.

Despite the objections, there are no plans to change the scheme. So Moscow shoppers will have a chance to decide if it's time for a change of diet when the new labels begin hitting the shelves in around a month’s time.