This article is part of our special report Sustainable and healthy food.
SPECIAL REPORT / The president of the European Natural Soyfood Manufacturers Association (ENSA), Bernard Deryckere, has called on the EU to better direct consumers towards foods that are not genetically-modified, perhaps by introducing GM-free labels across the food industry.
“Current EU policy does not sufficiently support the cultivation of GMO-free soy products, despite a clear demand for GMO-free food by the consumer,” Deryckere told EURACTIV in an interview.
“66% of the EU citizens are worried about GM in food and drinks, and thirdly European labelling rules are not yet fully harmonised across EU member states, which may result in consumer confusion,” he said, referring to a 2010 Eurobarometer survey on food-related risks.
Another Eurobarometer, from the same year, showed that 61% of Europeans did not think that the development of GMOs should be promoted.
The European Union currently has a system requiring companies to label their products if they contain more than 0.9% GMOs. But Deryckere believes that it is unfair that the scheme does not take into account feed for animal-based products.
Bart Staes, a Belgian Green MEP, said at a conference organised by ENSA on Wednesday (4 November): “85% of imported soy feed for animals contains GMOs”.
Green MEPs have pushed for specific “GMO-free” labels to apply across the European Union.
A number of companies have introduced voluntary GMO-free labels, including Belgian soy manufacturer Alpro, a member company of ENSA.
In February this year, ENSA sent a position paper to the European Commission calling for "harmonised rules on the use of GMO-free labels on foodstuffs at EU level".
At the moment, some European countries have decided to introduce their own national labelling regimes, but they are considerably different.
In Finland, a product must be 100% GMO-free to qualify for the label, whereas Germany permits under 0.1%. In France, vegetable-based products with under 0.1% GMO can qualify for the label.
However, to the European Commission, that the harmonisation of labels was not so simple. “There is a split majority on the issue,” said Werner Bosmans, an official in the Commission’s environment directorate.
Deryckere also supports the harmonisation of other food labels, including a product's impact on people's health and the environment.
The European Commission proposed allowing national cultivation bans for GMOs in July 2010, in a bid to break a deadlock in EU GM crop approvals which has seen few varieties approved for cultivation in more than 12 years.
The proposal, however, has been subject to bitter divisions between EU member states and the proposal remains blocked.
In the EU only two GM crops are approved for commercial cultivation: insect resistant maize, and potatoes with modified starch for industrial use.
Of the total area of GM maize grown in the EU in 2012 (129,000 hectares) one country, Spain, contributed more than 90%.
To date, seven EU countries have introduced national "safeguard" bans on growing Monsanto's MON 810 insect-resistant maize: Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.