EU agrees GMO traceability and labelling rules

The EU’s Environment Ministers agreed on 9 December on a set of tough and comprehensive labelling and traceability rules for products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used directly as food or animal feed or in food processing.

Under the compromise political agreement, which must still be endorsed by the European Parliament, the EU would become able to lift the ban on GMO products that was imposed by seven of the 15 Member States in 1999. The aim of the ban was to ensure that GMOs do not pose environmental or health risks. Washington considers the ban illegal, but the US - where GM crops are widely grown - has not yet brought a trade case against the EU.

The new rules would oblige shippers to provide a list of all the GMOs present in the food or feed at their point of departure. Each GMO will receive a "unique identifier" in the form of a numeric or alphanumeric code, and a system will be established to trace these materials and to retain all relevant information for five years. The law extends the current rules, which apply to food only, to animal feed and products derived from GMOs. Exempt from the rules are "adventitious or technically unavoidable traces of authorised GMOs" in a proportion not exceeding 0.9 per cent. A threshold of 0.5 per cent will be set for unauthorised traces of GMOs that have otherwise received a favourable scientific assessment, and the labelling obligation applies to all products with 0.9 per cent or higher GMO content.

The agreement was not joined by Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Luxembourg wants tougher rules, while London and the Hague believe that the procedure is unworkable, and it would prove very costly for bulk shippers as it is impossible to avoid mixing GM and non-GM grain. To reconcile these positions, the Commission will review the new system's implementation within two years.

The environmental organizationGreenpeacewelcomed the political agreement, but noted that the EU legislative framework on GMOs is not yet completed. Lorenzo Consoli of Greenpeace European Unit emphasised that the whole issue of possible genetic contamination of non-GMO and organic agriculture (the so-called coexistence issue) has not yet been dealth with by the EU legislation.


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