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 (GM) organisms.
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
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 modified corn.
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 modified corn.
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 with GMOs.
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
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 coexistence."
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 crops.
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 guidelines.
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 the guidelines.
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 said.
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 anti-contamination measures."
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 Reserved.