European Parliament to adopt reports on traceability and labelling of GMOs

The European Parliament is expected to adopt two proposals on the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms on 3 July. The two proposals will be more restrictive for producers and provide more information to consumers.

The Commission proposed on 25 July 2001 two legislative
proposals on 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 proposals aim to put into place a stringent
regulatory framework and to close existing legal gaps. They address
the legitimate concerns of citizens, consumer organisations and
economic operators. A strict safety assessment of GMOs will
continue to assure a high level of health and environmental
protection. 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).

Traceability provides the means to trace
products containing or produced from GMOs through the production
and distribution chains. The general objectives are to
facilitate:

  • control and verification of labelling claims;
  • targeted monitoring of potential effects on the environment,
    where appropriate;
  • withdrawal of products that contain or consist of GMOs should
    an unforeseen risk to human health or the environment be
    established.

The European Parliament has the power of
co-decision on these issues. The vote in the plenary on 3 July will
follow recommendations from the Environment Committee who voted in
June to strengthen original proposals from the Commission.

The report by the Greek MEP, Antonios
Trakatellis (EPP) was adopted by a very slim majority (28 votes in
favour, 25 against) in the Environment Committee.

The Committee’s amendments on traceability and
labelling o f GMOs go much further than the original Commission’s
proposal. They call for the labelling of products (such a milk,
eggs, meat, sugar) that are derived from animals raised on
GMO-feed.

 

Positions

The Greens believe that the Commission's proposals
for two regulations did not go far enough. They adopted amendments
aimed at tightening the rules on the labelling of products for
human or animal consumption, derived from GMOs. The Greens oppose
the Commission's proposal to set a 1 per cent treshold for
unauthorised GMOs and GM derivatives. The Environment Committee
voted for a lower threshold of 0.5 per cent.

The author of the resolution, Mr Trakatellis,
voted against the amended text, and vowed to fight for his original
proposal in the plenary. He opposes the adopted amendments that
impose labelling on products that are derived from animals raised
on GMO-feed because there is no change in DNA in such products (for
example sugar, milk). Furthermore, it is difficult to establish
with full certainty whether an animal had at a certain point been
fed with genetically modified feed or not.

Friends of the Earth Europe believe that GMO
contamination is unacceptable and that any threshold should be as
good as the testing technology which is currently 0.1 per cent.
Many retailers can detect GMOs down to 0.01 per cent, according to
this environmental organisation. Friends of the Earth Europe also
opposes the biotech industry's proposal to introduce a "GM-Free"
label. The organisation states that this would increase the cost of
GM-free food making, mislead the consumers, and put the burden of
proof on the companies who don’t want to use GM ingredients,
instead of the companies who do. In addition, a "GM-free" label
would still need a traceability scheme so that it could be
verified.

The European Consumers' Organisation, BEUC, stated
that the European Parliament's position on GMOs "will provide an
important sign as to what we can be expecting in the future." Mr
Jim Murray, Director of BEUC, underlined that "Food policy must aim
at creating the conditions in which we have good reason to feel
confident about the food we eat."

The European Association of Bioindustries,
EuropaBio,
warned that "if the majority of MEPs vote with
the hard line greens, the new rules could eliminate consumer
choice, reduce options for sustainable agriculture in Europe, and
disrupt trade with third countries". EuropaBio states 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% have
been agreed for non-organic material in products that may be still
labelled as organic. EuropaBio states that proposals by some MEPs
to lower the threshold to 0.5 per cent or less would be
incompatible with agricultural practices in the EU and around the
world.

The British Government has urged British MEPs to
block the strict new labelling regime in the European Parliament
vote. The Government has sent British MEPs a briefing note urging
them to vote against it, stating that the issue is low on the list
of consumer priorities. The note says that that meat from animals
fed on GM feed should not be labelled. The document argues that
only product that "actually contain GM material [DNA or protein]
which can be verified by testing" should be labelled.

The US Government has threatened take the EU to
the World Trade Organisation for introducing technical barriers to
trade is 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.

 

Background

In July 2001, the European Commission issued proposals on
labelling and tracing of GMOs. The aim is to find a system of using
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a way that ensures a high
level of environmental and health protection.

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

EU legislation on GMOs has been in place since
the early 1990s and throughout the decade, this regulatory
framework has been further extended and refined. The EU introduced
specific legislation designed to protect the citizens' health and
the environment while simultaneously creating a unified market for
biotechnology.

The main legislation which authorises
experimental releases and placing on the market of GMOs is
currently Directive 90/220/EEC. A new Directive 2001/18/EC on the
deliberate release of genetically modified organisms was adopted by
the European Parliament and the Council in March 2001 and will
enter into force on 17 October 2002.

Directive 90/220/EEC puts in place a
step-by-step approval process on a case by case assessment of the
risks to human health and the environment before any GMO or product
consisting of or containing GMOs can be released into the
environment or placed on the market.

Products derived from GMOs, such as paste or
ketchup from a GMO tomato are not covered by this horizontal
Directive but by vertical, sectoral legislation, for example the
Regulation on Novel Foods and Novel Food Ingredients of 27 January
1997 (Regulation (EC) 258/97).

 

Timeline


The European Parliament will discuss the two prop osals on
GMOs on 2 July and vote on them on 3 July.

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