Biotech, legislation: new labelling rules
may mark end of GMO moratorium
The European Parliament
has approved tough new rules on the labelling and planting
of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that could pave the
way to the lifting of current restrictions on GM foods.
The 626-member European Parliament gave its
blessing on 2 July to a suite of new regulations on tightening
labelling laws for GM foods and measures to ensure the ‘co-existence’
of GM, conventional and organic crops. The rules will mean
that any food containing more than 0.9% GMOs will have to
be clearly labelled as such. In addition, for the first time,
the new regime covers animal feed, as well as food destined
for human consumption. “Europe will now have a comprehensive
and transparent system of authorisation and labelling that
can only enhance business and consumer confidence,”
said Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne.
By enabling consumers to make an informed choice about the
food they eat and giving farmers the freedom to choose what
they grow without fear of cross-contamination, the new legislation,
if passed, could open the way to the removal of a de facto
ban on GMOs that has been in place for the past five years.
“We have now come to the stage where we must lift the
de facto moratorium,” the Health Commissioner
Although the new rules are likely to lead to the appearance
of GM products on European supermarket shelves, they may not
go far enough to take the wind out of a brewing transatlantic
The United States, which has invested heavily in GM farming,
wants the EU to abandon its cautious approach and open up
its markets to GM crops. Washington filed a suit at the World
Trade Organisation (WTO) last month claiming that the European
moratorium was an ‘unfair barrier’ to trade.
US officials have hinted that the new labelling rules may
not be enough for the suit to be withdrawn since the American
government regards the labelling system as likely to deter
Last month, the Union reiterated its view during a consultation
at the international organisation that its GMO authorisation
system is in accordance with WTO laws. The EU also insisted
that it established this regulatory regime to ensure that
GMOs are only put on the market on the basis of a careful
assessment of risks.
European environmental groups and critics of GMOs have welcomed
the new rules but say they do not go far enough. Friends of
the Earth believes that the 0.9% threshold is too high since
current testing techniques can reliably detect GMO content
of as low as 0.1%.
Euro Coop, an alliance of European consumer groups, regretted
that the Parliament had failed to legally oblige Member States
to take co-existence measures. “This agreement enshrines
a pick-and-choose system which is far from the EU harmonised
legislation recommended by consumer and environmental NGOs,”
a Euro Coop spokesperson said.
Although some small biotech businesses complained that the
new legislation would burden them with too much extra bureaucracy,
the bioindustry as a whole was upbeat about it. Europabio,
a European bioindustry association, described the new package
as "the most broad ranging laws in the world".
EU farm ministers are expected to discuss the new package
this month. If they approve it, the legislations could come
into force as early as this autumn.
Source: EU and news sources
notes on GM food and animal feed legislation
notes on labelling and traceability of GM food
Commission press release on WTO consultation