European Parliament tightens GMO labelling rules

The European Parliament adopted in its first reading on 3 July strict new rules on the labelling of food products and feed containing genetically modified organisms.

The Parliament endorsed both Commission proposals with
amendments demanding more stringent rules on traceability and
labelling of food products and animal feed containing GMOs. Under
the new rules, all GM food and feed products will have to be
labelled and to be traceable irrespective of whether they contain
GMO DNA or protein. That means that products such as sugar and
highly refined oils produced from GMOs will have to be labelled.

The new rules should establish the same
requirements both for producers within and outside the EU. When
placing products produced from GMOs on the market, operators shall
always ensure that either the words ‘This product is produced from
GMOs’ or ‘This product contains (ingredient) produced from GMOs’
appear on a label.

The Parliament has demanded a stricter treshold
for labelling foods or feeds that are contaminated with GMOs. The
Commission had proposed a 1 per cent treshold, but the Parliament
demanded that this threshold be 0.5 per cent.

However, the MEPs turned down amendments by the
Greens that eggs, meat and milk from animals fed with GM feed be
labelled.

A proposal calling for a ‘GMO-free’ label,
backed by the industry, was also rejected.

 

Positions

The Commission stated it was "pleased that
Parliament rejected the more extreme amendments which would have
required, for example, compulsory labelling of meat, milk and eggs
obtained from animals fed on GM feed". It underlined that this
would not be workable in practice. The Commission said that it
would hold "a firm line in rejecting those amendments which would
put significant obstacles in the way of the practical
implementation of the legislation and hamper international trade".
It rejected the amendment which rule out tolerance of minute traces
of unauthorised but scientifically positively assessed GM material
and which require the precise identification of GMOs which are not
to be disseminated into the environment. "These amendments would
represent a high cost for the operators without providing
significant benefits in terms of risk management," said the
Commission in a statement after the Parliament's vote.

Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallström , said
that the new rules will introduce a robust safeguard system and a
comprehensive labelling system. "In this way, we address some of
the most critical concerns of the public regarding the
environmental and health effects of GMOs and enable consumers to
chose," she said. The Commissioner expressed her belief that the
new rules will facilitate business development and international
trade.

Stringent new rules are likely to cause a trade
dispute between the EU and the United States where GM crops exports
are worth billions of dollars. The
US Government has threatened take the EU to t he
World Trade Organisation for introducing technical barriers to
trade if the Union adopts restrictive new rules on GMOs. The US
Government claims that the labelling proposals could block more
than 4 billion US dollars of food exports per year.

The biotech industry fears that the new rules
will bring research to a standstill and disrupt trade with third
countries.
The European Association of Bioindustries,
EuropaBio,
warned that guaranteeing 100 per cent purity of
agricultural commodities is "practically impossible". The
organisation warns that the Commission's proposal to label products
containing more than 1 per cent of GM protein is "a very
restrictive threshold compared to existing purity requirements".
For example, thresholds of 5 per cent have been agreed for
non-organic material in products that may be still labelled as
organic.

The EU farmers associations,
COPA and COGECA, agreed with the Parliament's
opinion on not extending the traceability and labelling system to
meat, eggs and dairy products from animals fed with GM feeds.
However, COPA and COGECA are of the opinion that traceability and
labelling of food products should not be applied where GMO DNA or
proteins cannot be detected. COPA and COGECA share the opinion of
the Commission that the lowering of the threshold for GMO
contamination to 0.5 per cent does not lead towards a GMO
traceability system which is feasible and reliable. In particular,
the proposed threshold of 0.5 per cent does not seem "practically
feasible for GM seeds, according to COPA and COGECA.

The Greens/European Free Alliance said that the
vote was "a great victory for consumers and for the millions of
people across the EU who do not want to eat genetically modified
food and who do not want to feed it to their animals". The Greens
are pleased that the Parliament endorsed their proposal on
"no-tolerance of illegal GMOs, as opposed to the 1 per cent policy
proposed by the Commission."

Friends of the Earth Europe stated that the vote
was "a major victory for civil society groups who have fought to
ensure that food products derived from GMO crops are properly
labelled". Geert Ritsema, European GMO Campaigner of Friends of the
Earth Europe, said: "Today’s vote is a major success for
European consumers and a serious defeat for the biotech industry
and the US government who have lobbied so hard to water down these
proposals. The public should have the right to avoid GMO foods if
they don’t want to eat them."

"Now consumers can decide the future of GM food
and food ingredients" said Jim Murray,
BEUC Director. "It's a vote for consumer
choice!"

EURO COOP, the European association of consumer
cooperatives, welcomed the vote as "a victory for European
consumers". It underlined that the current EU labelling scheme
based on detectability of DNA in the final product does not
guarantee consumer choice because highly processed food, such as
maize oil, cannot be labelled as a GM product even if it has been
produced from GM maize. EURO COOP also welcomed the Parliament's
rejection of the Commission's proposals for a 1 per cent tolerance
level for non-authorised GMOs.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said that
vote was "an important step that also in future the consumers can
make their own choice". The organisation was particularly pleased
with the vote in favour of full traceability and labelling of all
food products produced from GM crops irrespectively of whether GMO
DNA or protein can be detected or not. The EEB is also pleased with
the new contamination threshold of 0.5 per cent. However, the
organisation regrets that the Parliament did not vote in favour of
extending the traceability and labelling system to meat, eggs and
dairy products from animals fed with GM feeds. The EEB has called
upon the Council to extend the traceability and labelling to these
products.

 

Background

The Commission proposed on 25 July 2001 two legislative
proposals on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They set up a
harmonised community system to trace GMOs, introduce the labelling
of GM feed, reinforce the current labelling rules on GM food and
establish a streamlined authorisation procedure for GMOs in food
and feed and their deliberate release into the environment. The
labelling of all GM food and feed products will allow consumers and
farmers to decide if they want to buy food or feed produced from a
GMO, or not.

The package consists of:

  • a proposal for a Regulation on traceability and labelling of
    GMOs and products produced from GMOs (
    COM 2001 - 1821 final,
    25 July 2001);
  • a proposal for a Regulation on GM food and feed (
    COM 2001 - 425 final,
    25 July 2001).

 

Timeline

The report of the European Parliament will be transmitted to
the Council which is expected to adopt its Common Position this
autumn. The second reading in the Parliament could be held by the
end of this year.

When adopted, the new legislation might lead to
the lifting of the four-year moratorium on the commercial growing
of GM crops in Europe.

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