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Page last update: 25/12/2008

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 urged.

Mixed reception
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 trade battle.
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US officials have hinted that the new labelling rules may not be enough for the suit to be withdrawn since the American government regards the labelling system as likely to deter consumers.
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
More Information:
Parliament notes on GM food and animal feed legislation
Parliament notes on labelling and traceability of GM food
Commission press release on WTO consultation

Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top