GMO in South Korea: Government considers extending non-GMO food labels to align with international standards

By Pearly Neo contact

- Last updated on GMT

More South Korean brands with products containing only trace amounts of genetically modified (GM) ingredients could be able to make ‘non-GMO’ label claims. ©Getty Images
More South Korean brands with products containing only trace amounts of genetically modified (GM) ingredients could be able to make ‘non-GMO’ label claims. ©Getty Images

Related tags: GMO, South korea

More South Korean brands with products containing only trace amounts of genetically modified (GM) ingredients could be able to make ‘non-GMO’ label claims, as the country considers aligning its rules with international standards.

Changes to the standards are being managed by the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), which is calling for public opinion regarding the implementation of ‘non-GMO’ labels for food products with very little GM ingredients.

“The reason we are seeking to make this amendment is to promote the development of the food industry by improving the non-GMO labelling standards to meet international standards, and to [correct] some deficiencies in the current system,”​ said MFDS in a formal statement.

“This is especially meant to improve [the governance of food products] where there has been unintentional or adventitious incorporation of non-GMO ingredients such that these can use non-GMO labelling, [in accordance with] international standards.

“In countries like Europe, Australia and New Zealand, non-GMO labelling is allowed if this is within the value set by the country. International standards generally place this threshold at 0.9% or less of [GM content].

“[These labelling amendments] will be planned based on food industry developments and also consumer preferences, [hence all] organisations or individuals with opinions on this amendment are encourage to submit these to MFDS.”

Non-GMO labelling will continue to only be applicable for specific food products – soybean, maize, cotton, canola, sugar beet and alfalfa as well as processed foods which have passed food safety assessments.

Crucially, however, the new rules would apply to all ingredients used , opposed to only the ‘top five’ ingredients previously.

“Foods subject to GM food labelling requirements would now find the application of standards expanded from the top five ingredients used to all ingredients in the product,”​ said MFDS.

“[Labels in this regard] will include options such as ‘Non-GMO’, ‘Non-GMO Food’, or ‘GMO-free’, [although] these non-GMO labels may not be used for foods such as rice and bananas which have not been developed or approved as GM foods locally.

“Currently, products such as cooking oils, soy sauces and sugars in which no genetically modified DNA or protein remains due to refining processes will continue to be excluded from labelling requirements, [although] we will be holding stakeholder discussions about these to reach a final consensus.”

All parties wishing to submit opinions to MFDS can do so via mail to the ministry’s postal address available here​ by March 29 2021.

Decision on threshold level

MFDS added that the decision regarding what threshold level South Korea would set for adventitious presence of GM components would be made depending on food product self-sufficiency and import levels.

“Different countries apply different threshold levels depending on their production conditions for agricultural products and their self-sufficiency rates,”​ said the ministry in the non-GMO draft standards document.

“[Accordingly], a decision on lowering the adventitious presence level [of food GM content] requires close examination on self-sufficiency rates of domestic agricultural products, secured import quantities of non-GMO agricultural products, comparison between consumer benefits, and economic effectiveness and threshold levels of other countries, among other things.”

Public hearings involving the South Korean National Assembly, the food industry, consumers and various other stakeholders and the local ‘GM Foods Labelling Scheme Committee’ will take place to make a consensus before any threshold or standards implementation occurs.

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