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Food and Feed Safety (22-09-2015)

State of play in the EU on voluntary GM-free food labelling schemes and assessment of the need for possible harmonisation

Today DG SANTE publishes a study titled "State of play in the EU on GM-free food labelling schemes and assessment of the need for possible harmonisation". This study was commissioned to an external contractor.

The issue at stake

The EU legislation on GMO requires that where products contain, consist of, or are produced from authorised GMOs, they must be clearly labelled as such, except if the GMO presence is below 0,9% and is adventitious or technically unavoidable.
Labelling food to highlight that, in addition to what is prescribed by the EU legislation, specific measures have been taken on a voluntary basis to strictly exclude the presence or the use of GMOs in some food or feed products (so called “GM-free labels”) is not forbidden provided that the information is not misleading for the consumer.
In view of the development of these voluntary GM-free labels in a number of Member States in the past years, the Commission has asked an external contractor, ICF/GHK, to perform a study in order to take stock of existing labels and their specifications, in the EU-28 Member States and in third countries, and to identify whether, and to what extent, the existence of these different GM-free labelling schemes impact the access of European consumers to food information and the functioning of the internal market. The study also aimed to identify and analyse the core elements to be considered in the context of a potential EU harmonised approach to GM-free labelling.
The evidence for preparation of the report was gathered via a literature review, desk research and consultations with Member States, third countries and stakeholders, including 70 interviews and 9 survey responses. 6 country case studies were also performed (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, and United Kingdom).
Key findings of the study

  • Many different types of schemes exist, including well-established national and private operator-led schemes that aim to facilitate GM-free labelling, as well as national legislations that restrict or ban such labelling.
  • Technical specifications of GM-free labels vary, especially on the threshold levels for adventitious or technically unavoidable GM presence, minimum feeding times for animals fed on non-GM feed, and exceptions allowed for use of GM inputs when non GM inputs are unavailable.
  • Variations across GM-free labelling schemes suggest potential underlying single market and consumer protection/information issues. A majority of stakeholders and Member States show an interest in harmonisation. However the assessment of the current evidence, including the fact that GM-free labels markets are still predominantly national with limited intra-EU exchanges, does not indicate a clear need for harmonisation at the present time.
  • The existing GM-free schemes contain most or all of the following 6 elements, which should be considered in priority in the context of a potential EU harmonisation of the field: (1) Labelling rules (wording, label format, logo); (2) Indication of the scope of products covered; (3) Threshold levels for adventitious or technically unavoidable presence; (4) Specifications of inputs to be excluded and exceptions; (5) Minimum non-GM feeding times for animals fed on non-GM feed; (6) Certification, inspection and monitoring procedures.

The study is now published in the GMO dedicated section of DG SANTE's website.