BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 23, 2003 (ENS): The European Union
has completed its legislative framework governing genetically
modified organisms with the adoption Tuesday of two
European Commission proposals. One establishes a system
to trace and label these products of biotechnology,
and another regulates the marketing and labeling of
food and feed products derived from genetically modified
Across Europe, consumers have rejected genetically
modified foods due to concerns of allergenicity, and
as yet unknown dangers to human health and the environment.
Some food retailers and manufacturers have pledged to
produce and market only products that do not contain
transgenic organisms. Six European Union countries have
placed a moratorium on the cultivation of GM crops.
A Eurobarometer opinion poll published by the European
Commission in December 2001 showed that 94.6 percent
of EU citizens surveyed want the right to choose whether
or not to eat foods derived from biotechnology, 85.9
percent want to know more before eating foods containing
genetically modified ingredients, and 70.9 percent do
not want GM food at all.
Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne
said the new draft legislation should set all those
fears to rest. “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 labeled. For the
first time farmers will see labels on GM feed,"
Byrne said. "Europe will now have a comprehensive
and transparent system of authorization and labeling
that can only enhance business and consumer confidence.”
But Mauro Albrizio from the European Environmental
Bureau, a coalition of 134 organizations in 25 countries,
said, "The right to eat GM-free food will be severely
compromised if GM crops are grown are a large scale.
The Commission must accept that no one wants GM foods
and that public authorities have every right to protect
their consumers and environment."
The European Union has been under pressure from the
United States to permit the development, import and
sales of genetically modified crops and foods, most
of which originate with U.S. companies. On May 20, the
United States, joined by Canada and Argentina, filed
a complaint against the EU over the issue before the
World Trade Organization. No hearing has yet been held.
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said the
new legislation "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," Wallstrom
said, "we provide a robust safeguard system and
the foundation for a comprehensive labeling 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."
Traceability provides the means to track the movement
of genetically modified products through the production
and distribution chains. Traceability for certain products
has existed for many years, but specific traceability
requirements for products that contain genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) or are derived from GMOs do not currently
The draft law requires the labeling of all foods produced
from GMOs whether or not there is DNA or protein of
transgenic origin in the final product. All genetically
modified feed must also be labeled.
Today retailers have to label food consisting of or
containing genetically modified organisms. This also
includes food produced from GMOs if traces of DNA or
protein from the genetic modification is detectable
in the final product, such as flour produced from genetically
But these labeling provisions do not cover some foods
or food ingredients, such as highly refined soy or corn
oil produced from genetically modified soybeans or genetically
The new law will extend the current labeling requirements
to also cover such food and food ingredients produced
from GMOs such as biscuits made with corn oil produced
from genetically modified corn.
The label has to indicate, “This product contains
genetically modified organisms” or “produced
from genetically modified (name of organism).”
The EU will pursue its examination of new GMOs, which
in accordance with European Union law, can only be authorized
for cultivation and/or marketing in the EU if they present
no risk for human health or the environment. A number
of GMOs have been notified for authorization and are
being processed by the Commission and the member states.
The new draft legislation meets some of the demands
of European Farmer Co-ordination (CPE), an association
of 18 farmer and rural organizations from 11 European
countries, both members and non members of the EU. In
an open letter to EU ministers last fall, the CPE asked
for mandatory labeling of any agricultural product,
animal feedstuff, seed containing GMOs, and animal products
produced with GMOs, as well as food products processed
The coexistence of genetically modified crops with
conventional and organic farming is seen as a problem
for farmers, such as those affiliated with CPE, who
wish to keep their crops free of genetically modified
Today, as an extension of its new legislative framework,
the European Commission published guidelines for the
development of strategies and best practices to ensure
the coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional
and organic crops.
Commenting on the guidelines, EU Agriculture Commissioner
Franz Fischler said variations in national and regional
or local conditions make "an EU wide one size fits
all approach unworkable."
“We want to ensure that farmers are able to cultivate
the types of agricultural crops they choose be it GM
crops, conventional or organic crops," the commissioner
said. "This is why we need measures to ensure their
But CPE farmers do not believe coexistence without
contamination of conventional and organic crops is not
possible. In its open letter to the EU ministers, CPE
wrote, "We refuse the experimentation in open field,
because we know from experience that it is impossible
to avoid the contamination."
Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the European Environmental
Bureau today condemned the European Commission's recommendation
on coexistence between genetically modified and non-GM
Friends of the Earth Europe's GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow
said, "Moves to allow organic crops to be contaminated
with GM pollution are totally unacceptable, and could
lead to the death of organic food and farming. Member
states should reject this recommendation and bring in
tough legislation to prevent genetic contamination and
ensures real consumer choice."
The new guidelines on coexistence state that as a general
principle, during the introductory phase of a new production
type in a region, farmers who introduce the new production
type should bear the responsibility of implementing
the actions necessary to limit mixing of transgenic
organisms with conventional or organic ones.
Approaches to coexistence should be developed in a
transparent way, based on scientific evidence and in
cooperation with all concerned, the guidelines say.
They should ensure an equitable balance between the
interests of farmers of all production types.
National strategies and best practices should refer
to the legal labeling thresholds and purity standards
for GM food, feed and seed, and local and regional aspects
should be fully taken into account, according to the
Measures should be efficient and cost effective, without
going beyond what is necessary to comply with EU threshold
levels for GMO labeling, the guidelines state.
They should be specific to different types of crops,
since the probability of accidental mixing varies from
one crop to another. For some crops such as oil seed
rape the probability is high, but for others such as
potatoes the probability is fairly low, according to
Measures taken on the farm might include isolation
distances, buffer zones, and pollen barriers such as
hedgerows. There might be cooperation between neighboring
farms such as information about sowing plans, and the
use of crop varieties with differing flowering times.
"The recommendations are based on the latest available
research results, and provide a sound basis on which
member states should build their approaches," Fischler
Eric Gall, Greenpeace's EU advisor on genetic engineering,
said earlier this month, "Preventing genetic contamination
should now be the number one priority for the EU. If
nothing is done to protect conventional and organic
crops from genetic contamination, the new labeling system
will actually be at risk of becoming useless after a
few years because it will be increasingly hard to secure
GMO free supplies."
Gall said today, "Member states should make clear
in their national legislation that GM producers are
the ones responsible for avoiding GMO's in food, feed
and especially seeds. According to the polluter pays
principle GM producers should also bear the cost of
On Monday, Greenpeace activists replaced the World
Trade Organization sign at its headquarters in Geneva
with a new logo, "World Transgenic Order,"
denouncing the WTO for promoting the corporate interests
of the genetic engineering industry.
At the same time, Greenpeace activists representing
consumers were shoved into straitjackets by Uncle Sam,
who dumped genetically engineered corn on them to dramatize
what the activists believe the United States wants to
do to consumers around the world.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights