EU ministers agree new thresholds on GM food, feed
BRUSSELS - The European Union could see tough new labelling rules for genetically modified (GM) food and animal feed next year after EU farm ministers thrashed out a compromise deal last week on thresholds for the hi-tech crops.
After months of stormy debate, the 15 ministers finally buried the hatchet and agreed on a level of 0.9 percent for labelling of all food and feed containing GMO (GM organism) material. Below this, no labelling requirement would be applied.
The revised draft law relates to the labelling of all foods produced from GMOs irrespective of whether there is DNA or protein of GM origin in the final product, such as soybean oil. All GM feed would be covered by the law, for the first time.
They also agreed on a threshold for accidental traces of unauthorised GMOs already assessed as risk-free at 0.5 percent in food and feed for a three-year transitional period. The same threshold would apply to authorised GMOs but with no transition.
\"This new law further ensures consumer choice through labelling of GMO derived food and also provides the farmer with information,\" said David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection.
\"This is a good day for consumers and consumer protection: to put in place a solid piece of legislation and enable consumers to choose whether they want to consume GM food or not,\" he said, following a vote by the farm ministers. The main states voting against were Luxembourg, Britain and Austria.
GM food and animal feed has been allowed in the EU since 1996, but only a fraction of it has to be labelled under current legislation. For GM animal feed, labels are not required at all.
By tightening criteria for the presence of GMO material in food and feed, the European Commission hopes to persuade GM-sceptic member states not to block any new applications to authorise new GM products - and pave the way to lift an effective moratorium on GM crops in place since June 1999.
Since this time, EU farmers have been unable to grow or sell most of the GM crops commonly used in the United States after a blocking minority of member states said they would oppose any new permits, pending tougher regulations.
The updated legislation would apply to non-authorised GMOs that have already won a favourable assessment by EU scientists: some 11 products, including several bio-engineered U.S. maize types, that have been denied EU access due to the moratorium.
LONG ROAD AHEAD
Despite the long-awaited compromise deal brokered by current EU presidents Denmark, which breaks months of deadlock between member states, the tough talking on how far to permit the presence of GMOs in food and feed is far from over.
The draft legislation now returns for a further reading in the European Parliament, where a hot debate can be expected as the assembly has already clearly stated that it wants stricter labelling for GMOs than the ministers have been proposing.
Europe\'s politicians have been extremely wary about endorsing GMO material in conventional food without special safeguards due to scepticism in many EU states about modern farming methods - especially the use of GM products, which have been dubbed \"Frankenstein foods\" by concerned consumers.
Candidates for compulsory labelling, if they came from GM crops, would include soymeal, corn gluten and refined products such as sugar and starch where DNA cannot be traced.
GREENS GIVE THUMBS UP
Environmental campaigners say the threshold for accidental presence of GMO material aims to appease U.S. producers who may have a degree of cross-contamination in their crops from other GMOs grown alongside that have not been favourably assessed.
They had also urged the farm ministers to extend the mandatory labelling regime to all GMO food products and to GMO animal feed, with the threshold for accidental presence fixed at the lowest detectable level - currently 0.1 percent.
\"Adventitious (accidental) presence is a problem for U.S. farmers, even if they try to avoid it,\" said Lorenzo Consoli, EU policy advisor at international environmental group Greenpeace.
\"But the major result is we will have labelling of feed, which we didn\'t have before. We will have the most comprehensive labelling system for GM products: food, feed and derivatives. It will be the model to follow,\" he told Reuters.
Story by Jeremy Smith
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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