28 July 1997
EC approves GMO labelling plans

PLANS for the compulsory labelling of genetically modified seed and food products have been approved by the European Commission in Brussels.

The move will appease EU consumer groups who have called for better labelling following the BSE crisis and the argument over Novartiss genetically-modified maize. Novartis produced a modified maize which was approved by the European Commission, but banned by three member states because of safety concerns.

The new labelling laws – which have been an issue of contention with the US government for a number of weeks – are unlikely to spark a trade row since officials were careful not to demand that gene-modified foods be segregated from non-modified foods at the planting stage.

In its statement on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), the commission stressed that all products containing GMOs, and all products which might contain GMOs, be clearly labelled.

Under the rules, manufacturers will be forced to state “this product contains material of GMO origin.” But when the presence of GMO material cannot be ruled out – and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the product is GMO-free – then manufacturers must clearly state “this may contain GMOs”.

Manufacturers who produce products which have been certified as GMO-free will be allowed to publicise the fact.

The 20 commissioners agreed last week to adopt a new approach to labelling which will span the entire food chain. At the moment, only genetically modified seeds, animal feeds and some consumer products require labelling, but this will all change when EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler releases more comprehensive labelling proposals in Autumn.

Amanda Cheesley in Brussels.