Europe's vast food industry calls for an end to 'uncertainty' over non EU-approved GM traces in foodstuffs, warning that new risks on the horizon could bring massive costs to the European supply chain.
In a joint statement, players ranging from food product makers to European cereal firms estimate immediate costs of detecting unapproved, but deemed safe elsewhere, GMOs in the soybean and derivative supply chain, such as lecithin, at between €1 billion and €2.8 billion.
Further, with new GM soy events due to be rolled-out onto the global food supply chain later this year, the industry believes the risk of finding non-EU approved GM material in the supply chain could rise significantly.
"We want to anticipate the risks, we do not want to appear in the EU rapid alert system," says Beate Kettlitz, director for food policy, science and R&D at the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA).
The CIAA, together with a swathe of other industry groups that includes European cereal group Coceral, the Federation of European Rice Millers, as well as flour and maize millers' associations, assert that minute levels of GM varieties approved elsewhere in the world, 'must be tolerated [in the EU] in order to avoid disruptions to the European food sector'.
"A threshold of 0.5 per cent would be appropriate," Beate Kettlitz tells BakeryandSnacks.com.
Today, EU law dictates a 0.9 per cent threshold for GM (EU-approved) material in food and feed. Any excess to the percentage means the food industry must ensure their products have a GM label.
However, GM material approved by key supplier countries, such as the US and Brazil, but not approved by the European 27 member bloc, is not tolerated at any point in the supply chain.
The CIAA, along with the other food players, insist this lack of tolerance will be extremely harmful to businesses. Findings from a recent study commissioned by the food stakeholders found the key negative effects of 'zero tolerance' are: reduced income and employment in the European food industry; a cost burden to the food supply chain; legal uncertainty for importers and processors; and a disruption for EU processing and increases reliance on imports.
On the burden of cost, the group cites a recent incident for the European rice industry when minute traces of unapproved GM rice were detected in imports of US long-grain rice.
According to the study, this event led to a 90 per cent cut in US rice imports, and has so far cost the European rice milling industry between €52 million and €111 million, 'pushing the average EU rice miller into debt'.
And if zero-tolerance continues, the risk, and cost, to industry will rise as new, non-EU approved events, reach the supply chain.
"The current situation is untenable," said Geoff Thompson at the CIAA. "All we asking for is legal certainty to protect our food supply chains," he added.
According to Beate Kettlitz, the food stakeholders, urging policymakers to seek 'practical and durable solutions' have already presented their findings to Europe's legislative executive, the European Commission. They have also asked their members, that include food firms such as ADM, Unilever and Kellogg's, to approach their respective national governments.
But as Europe continues to ride the wave of fervent anti-GM sentiment, any moves to allow currently unauthorised GM material,however minute, into the food supply chain, are likely to come up against strong opposition. But the food industry believes it is impractical and unrealistic not to accept that trace amounts will turn up in the imports.
"It is simply impossible to guarantee the total absence of GM traces from countries where GM crops are widely grown," said Ruth Rawling, chairwoman of the EU's grain trade group, Coceral.