EU Takes Steps to Require More Labeling for GM Foods

BRUSSELS -- In a vote reflecting deep divisions over biotechnology, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted narrowly in favor of more extensive labeling of foods and animal feeds containing genetically modified organisms.

The committee voted to require the European Union to require mandatory labeling for meat, dairy products and highly refined goods such as sugar and soybean oil produced from biotech ingredients -- even if no remnants of genetic modification are detectable.

It also voted to lower the threshold at which mandatory labeling would kick in, setting it at 0.5% per ingredient instead of 1% per ingredient, and to forbid the sale of any products containing traces of biotech ingredients not authorized in the 15-nation EU, even if they are widely authorized and grown outside the EU.

The U.S., along with many food producers in both Europe and the U.S., has warned that such stricter labeling requirements would result in a de facto ban on all products with a biotech label. In fact, even in advance of the new rules, many supermarkets are declaring their shelves biotech-free zones. "This would cause huge problems," said one U.S. government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Biotech products are subject to no special labeling at all in the U.S.

The committee vote is only preliminary. The European Parliament as a whole is scheduled to consider the committee's recommendations later this summer, and the draft law also faces review by European capitals, the European Commission, which has objected to many of the amendments, and then a second reading in the parliament.

Center-right politicians, who hold the majority in the parliament as a whole, in the committee voted overwhelmingly for less onerous rules, arguing that the amendments ultimately voted through by the committee would cause trade friction, confuse consumers and invite fraudulent and deceptive labeling. But a coalition of Socialist and Green members supported stricter rules, which they argued are needed to help rebuild confidence of European consumers grown skittish in the wake of a series of food scares.

Geert Ritsema, a lobbyist for the environmentalist pressure group Friends of the Earth, which had campaigned for stricter rules, called the outcome "quite positive" from an environmentalist point of view. "All foods derived from genetically modified organisms have to be labeled," he said.

If the amendments stick, that means labels will be required for highly refined soybean oils and sugars, along with meat and dairy products from animals fed on biotech corn and soybeans, although they contain no traces of genetically modified proteins. The committee voted to require labeling on the basis of a complicated traceability scheme -- essentially requiring a food ingredient to be labeled as biotech or non-biotech at each step of the food production process.

Euro MPs vote for tougher rules on GM food labels

BRUSSELS, June 4 (Reuters) - Genetically modified (GM) food and fodder should be clearly labelled and kept separate from non-GM varieties, a key European Parliament committee voted on Tuesday.

Parliament's environment committee voted to toughen draft European Union rules aimed at reassuring consumers they can avoid GM foods if they choose.

The bill, once approved could finally unlock EU approval of scores of

new GM crops. The 15-country bloc has not issued a single new GM permit since 1999 when a large minority of member states vowed to stall approvals pending the new regulations.

The committee endorsed plans, proposed by the European Commission last July, to make sure all food and animal feed made from GM ingredients be labelled as such, even if processing had destroyed any trace of genetic modification.

It voted to extend this requirement to meat, eggs and milk from animals fed on GM fodder.It deleted a proposal to allow up to one percent of unauthorised GM strains in non-GM products -- effectively banning any contamination by crops that are not allowed in the EU.

Environmentalists hailed the vote as a victory but the bio-tech industry said it hoped the full parliament would reject many of the amendments when it voted on the issue in July. Parliament shares lawmaking powers with EU member states.

"It was a vote for common sense, it's very good for consumers and the environment," Geert Ritsema, Friends of the Earth Europe's GMO campaigner, said.Industry body EuropaBio said it wanted a higher threshold for accidental ixing of authorised GM crops with non-GM.

The committee voted for a 0.5 percent maximum, but industry wants more leeway, arguing that rules on organic foods allow up to five percent non-organic content.

"We think what happened in the environment committee was a (biotech) sceptic vote," EuropBio's Adeline Farrelly said.

Last month a British parliamentary committee said the proposed rules were unworkable. "It is not practical to legislate for the degree of traceability envisaged by the Commission, particularly for bulk commodity imports such as soya and maize," the Earl of Selborne, who chaired an inquiry into the proposals, said.

Contact: DJ Nordquist/Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology

Office: 202-347-9132 (direct) - 202-256-3533 (cell)

Dispute Over Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods Threatens Billions In Trade New Issue Brief Looks at Economic and Cultural Factors Across the Atlantic; Key European Action Expected This Summer

Washington, D.C. (June 4, 2002) -- Contradictory approaches to the regulation of genetically modified (GM) foods could ignite a major trade war with the European Union and cost U.S. farmers and food manufacturers billions of dollars in lost exports, according to a new report from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.  A proposal adopted today by the European Parliament's Environment Committee to require the labeling and tracing of all GM ingredients in food has deep cultural roots but ould, if adopted, also have serious economic ramifications for American farmers who have adopted GM technology, the report finds. 

This new issue brief summarizes the regulations under consideration by the European Commission, what effects they could have on agricultural trade between the U.S. and the EU, and looks at the background issues dividing the U.S. and EU on this topic.  It also notes that the European Union labeling and traceability requirements are expected to continue to be hotly debated there this summer.

The U.S. accounts for the lion's share of GM crops grown worldwide, with three quarters of all GM crops in the world now being planted on American soil.  American exports of corn, cotton and soybeans -- large percentages of which are genetically modified -- constitute a significant share of the $6.3 billion annual value of U.S. agricultural exports to the EU.  Those exports could be severely impacted by a European proposal that advanced today to require strict labeling and traceability of all food and animal feed containing more than 0.5 percent GM ingredients. European officials insist that the new regulations are needed to "restore consumer confidence" in the technology.  While legislation was introduced in Congress last month to require labeling of all products which contain GM ingredients, current U.S. laws do not require GM crops to be labeled or traced because U.S. regulators do not believe that GM crops pose any unique risks over their conventional counterparts.

"In Europe, unlike in the U.S., a recent string of food crises such as mad cow disease outbreaks have created consumer apprehension about food safety in general," said Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Initiative.  "As a result, in part due to the novel nature of GM foods and  cultural factors relating to food, European consumers are particularly wary of biotech crops.  Strong European resistance to these crops has already wiped out a $200 million market for U.S. corn.

Although the U.S. and European governments share the same goal -- the safe and environmentally responsible use of GM foods -- their approaches to regulating these products could not be more different, in part reflecting different histories, political philosophies and cultures.

The question is whether the chasm across the Atlantic can be bridged before a serious trade clash erupts, which could not only cause major economic disruptions to American farmers but could also have a ripple effect around the world as other countries debate whether to follow the American or European regulatory model."

The full issue brief is available at The Initiative also hosted a policy dialogue last year on the EU proposal which can be found at

The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research project whose goal is to inform the public and policymakers on issues about genetically modified food and agricultural biotechnology, including its importance, as well as concerns about it and its regulation.  It is funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Richmond.

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