The Council of Ministers yesterday formally adopted two European Commission proposals on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), establishing a clear EU system to trace and label GMOs in food and feed products.
According to the European Commission, the new legislation will consolidate a trustworthy and safe approach to GMOs, GM food and GM feed. It is also intended to ensure full traceability of GMOs throughout the chain from farm to table and will provide consumers with comprehensive information by labelling all food and feed consisting of, containing or produced from a GMO.
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "I welcome this final adoption by Council of the new legislation on labelling and traceability of GMOs, which completes the EU's legislation on GMOs. It will reinforce our international credibility and will certainly help in building public confidence in new technologies. By ensuring that GMOs can be traced at all stages in the production and marketing chain, we provide a robust safeguard system and the foundation for a comprehensive labelling system. In this way, we address the most critical concerns of the public regarding the environmental and health effects of GMOs and enable consumers to chose."
Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said: "European consumers can now have confidence that any GM food or feed marketed in Europe has been subject to the most rigorous pre-marketing assessment in the world. Consumers will also have a clear choice of products to buy as GM food will now be clearly labelled. For the first time farmers will see labels on GM-feed. Europe will now have a comprehensive and transparent system of authorisation and labelling that can only enhance business and consumer confidence."
However in the US the reaction to the new legislation was lukewarm. Here the biotechnology industry, which already supplies a significant part of the US food chain with GMO foodstuffs, is already an established multi million dollar industry. More liberal legislation has led a great deal of US food producers to introduce GMO into the food chain, presenting difficulties should they wish to export these products to Europe in the future. Indeed, the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) sees the ruling as a stumbling block.
John R. Cady, CEO of the NFPA, said of the ruling: "These new required labels and traceability rules erect a new brick wall blocking the free international trade in food and food products. The EU has elected to turn away from food science and food safety to establish yet another trade barrier that will keep many U.S. food products out of the European market.
"Because there is no safety or nutrition issue associated with the products of agricultural biotechnology on the market, there is no scientific basis for requiring the labelling of biotech foods. Moreover, such labels on food products will be seen as 'warning labels' by European consumers. In essence, the requirements ensure that these products are unlikely to enter the European market, thereby actually denying consumer access to the products of agricultural biotechnology."
However, in Europe the argument is more in favour of the consumer and giving them the opportunity to make the choice of whether or not they want to buy food products containing genetically modified ingredients.
According to the new ruling, traceability will provide the means to track the movement of GM products through the production and distribution chains. Traceability for certain products in the European Union has existed for many years. However, specific traceability requirements for products that contain GMOs or are derived from GMOs do not currently exist.
Traceability will also facilitate monitoring of any effects on the environment, accurate labelling and the control of labelling claims. It additionally would enable products to be withdrawn from the market if any unexpected adverse effects were to arise. The new Regulation on traceability and labelling will require business operators when using or handling GM products to transmit and retain information at each stage of the placing on the market. Information concerning the presence of GMOs in products must be transmitted throughout the commercial chain and must be retained for five years. The food industry will therefore have to ensure that systems are in place to identify to whom and from whom GM products are made available.
The draft law will add to the current rules for the labelling of all foods produced from GMOs irrespective of whether there is DNA or protein of GM origin in the final product as well as all genetically modified animal feed.
Under current legislation the presence of GM material in conventional food does not have to be labelled if it is below 1 per cent and if it can be shown to be adventitious and technically unavoidable. The Parliament confirmed today a threshold of no higher than 0.9 per cent.
The legislation will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. Food producers have to comply with the new previsions on labelling within 6 months after the date of publication.