Pressure builds as US trade war looms
The process for the approval of GM (genetically modified) crops and foods has stalled in Europe for over four years, in the face of implacable opposition from a number of Member States (and consumer/environmental lobby groups). US trade officials are reported as being poised to urge the US to bring proceedings against the EU before the World Trade Organization for blocking imports of GM food1. However, some progress was made this month as Denmark and the Commission pushed EU Ministers to reach a consensus, rather than risk a legal complaint being filed by the US and face possible trade sanctions.
EU Ministers pave the way for thresholds on labelling and adventitious GM presence
A political agreement was reached on the proposal for a regulation governing GM food and feed at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 27-28 November2. At that meeting, a consensus was reached upon the thresholds for products containing adventitious or technically unavoidable traces of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) intended for direct use as food or feed. In essence:
a product would be allowed on the market, if it contained adventitious traces of less than 0.5% of authorised3 GMOs (or GMOs which had received a favourable scientific assessment (as being risk-free), but which had not yet been authorised in the EU); and
a product should be labelled as containing a GMO, if it contained more than 0.9% of material of a GMO, whether destined for human consumption or animal feed. No labelling would be required for the trace presence of a GMO at below this level.
EU Agriculture Ministers endorsed this political agreement on 1 December 2002.
Traceability of GM products
However, the compromise will face a further challenge today (9 December) when EU Environment Ministers debate the same issues and, in particular, the vexed question of the import of food products (and seed) from the US which may contain unauthorised GMOs. EU Ministers are expected to endorse a system for ensuring the traceability of products containing GMOs, which includes:
establishing a "unique identifier" code for each GMO to allow the retrieval of information concerning its traits, characteristics and transformation processes;
procedures to identify the operators in the supply chain for the products;
transmission by operators of information concerning the identity of a specific product;
retention of information by operators for a period of five years; and...