EU Council agrees the World's Strictest Legislation on Labelling ofGenetically Modified Food and Feed

Press release - 28 November, 2002
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Greenpeace today welcomed the political agreement, by the EU Agriculture Council, on the new Regulation on Genetically Modified (GM) Food and Feed. The agreement paves the way for Europe to adopt the world's strictest and most comprehensive regulations for labelling of GM food and feed, which will substantially increase European consumers and farmers ability to choose what products to eat and use. For the first time, GM feed will be labelled in the European Union.

When the new Regulation on Genetically Modified (GM) Food and Feed will come into force, then no GM product will be allowed unlabelled into the EU market. All GM food and food ingredients, including highly processed derivatives such as sugar, refined oil and starch, produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), will have to be clearly labelled. Another separate new regulation will set up a thorough 'traceability' system in order to follow food and food ingredients consisting of, containing or produced from GMOs across all stages of the food processing and distribution chain till the final product. These are exactly the changes that Greenpeace demanded in 1996-97, when the EU Novel Food Regulation was negotiated and approved.

"This result shows that the consumers, when asserting their rights, can win against the most powerful corporate lobbies. The most important practical effect of this new regulation will be that no GMOs can enter the European market unlabelled. This will send a strong message to commodity exporting nations such as the USA, Canada, Argentina and Brazil. The times when you could sneak millions of tonnes of GM soybeans and maize unlabelled into the food chain are definitely over," said Lorenzo Consoli, Greenpeace Advisor on GMOs.

One of Greenpeace's major concern remains the fact that the new regulation does not contain an adequate safeguard clause, which would allow Member States to enact national bans of approved GM products, based on the precautionary principle, where there are reasons to consider that there are possible risks for health or the environment. This kind of safeguard clause exists in the former and current EU legislation on GMOs (Directives on deliberate release and Novel Food Regulation), and must be included also in the GM Food and Feed Regulation.

The key details of the EU Council agreement were:

1) The labelling threshold for authorised GMOs in food and feed has been lowered 0,9 % in respect to the 1% threshold originally proposed by the European Commission. It will also be possible to establish lower thresholds through a technical procedure for foods containing or consisting of live GMOs. Greenpeace regretted that the agreement did not follow the European Parliament's request for 0,5% threshold.

2) The UK Government's 'attempt to undermine the GMO labelling obligation for products derived from GMOs (derivatives) by insisting on the actual detectability of GMO traces in the final product, was definitively defeated. All food and feed ingredients will have to be labelled, if they are produced from GMOs, on the basis of the new traceability system, irrespective to the detectability of GMO traces in the final product.

Greenpeace regretted:

1) The Council's decision to allow up to 0,5 % accidental contamination in food and feed from GMOs that have not been authorised in the EU, but recognises that this provision will now be only a three-year transitional regime, after which there will be a return to the 'zero tolerance' regime. An improvement is also the agreed lowering of the tolerance threshold in respect to the 1% figure initially proposed by the Commission.

2) The rejection of the Danish proposals aiming at imposing labelling of animal products produced with GM feed, such as meat, milk and eggs, and urged producers and retailers to voluntarily inform the consumers about whether GE feed has been used, through the appropriate labelling on the final product.