3 August 2001

GM labelling plans under attack

By Philip Clark Europe editor

ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners and US traders have reacted angrily to new labelling and traceability rules for genetically modified organisms proposed by Brussels.

The EU Commission plans call for a detailed audit of GMOs to be kept "from farm to table", with records held at each stage of the food chain for five years. Retail tickets should also specify the presence of authorised GMOs above a 1% threshold, including in animal feed.

But Greenpeace said the proposals "risk opening a hole in a dyke", allowing unauthorised GMOs into the EU market. In particular, it points to a clause allowing up to 1% inclusion of modified products which have been passed safe by Brussels scientists, but have not been formally approved due to the EU moratorium on new licences.

"This is the wrong reaction to increased pressure and threats from the US administration and biotechnology companies," said political adviser Brigid Gavin.

"If the EU sets clear and uncompromising safety standards, the market will adapt to them. Opening loopholes like this, however, invites them to continue with their present strategy of sneaking unwanted and dangerous GMOs into our food chain."

The US has also attacked the plans as "unworkable", suggesting they could operate as a trade barrier and force up prices.

"We respect the EUs need to respond to consumers fears," said Hans Hoyer of the American Soy-bean Association. "But we are concerned about the practicality. The plans totally ignore the complexity of bulk handling, where GM soya is mixed at all stages of the chain."

He estimates keeping varieties separate and individually identifiable would cost $25,000/ship load (£17,500).

Labelling was also unjustified, he said, since GM crops were not "substantially different" from conventional crops. Treating them differently violated World Trade Organisation rules.

Dr Hoyer was particularly concerned that the EU proposals called for the compulsory labelling of products derived from GMOs where processing had removed all traces of GM material. "This is unnecessary and will confuse consumers." &#42