European Commission guidelines on the labeling of products produced from genetically modified organisms

WASHINGTON, July 25 /PRNewswire/ -- The European Commission agreed on guidelines on the labeling of products produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), intended to ensure a coherent European Union approach across the different sectors regulating the use of GMOs throughout the food chain.

In order to adequately meet the legitimate demand for labeling, to enhance transparency and to safeguard the Internal Market, the Commission will prepare draft legislation based on the following fundamental principles:

-- labeling of products consisting of, containing or derived from GMOs throughout the food chain;

-- labeling intended to give consumers clear, honest and neutral information about the GMO origin of products, facilitating choice for consumers without stigmatizing modern biotechnology or raising doubts about the safety of products;

-- a science-based approach, implying mandatory labeling whenever the GMO origin can be scientifically proven in order to ensure enforceability and to limit the scope for fraud (through the possibility of verification);

-- an approach which is simple and not unduly costly for operators to comply with and one which minimizes uncertainty;

-- an approach that is in accordance with the EU's international obligations and which does not impose mandatory segregation of production, transport and distribution lines on operators, but only proportionate labeling requirements;

-- a coherent and flexible framework to determine the precise labeling rules with a clear proactive role for the EU.

Which products should be labeled?

The Commission intends to apply the general labeling principles to all products manufactured from GMOs in the food chain. Among other things, it will therefore present specific initiatives covering animal feeds and seeds in the course of 1997. Later this year the Commission will also integrate this approach in its proposals for revision of the Directive 90/220/EEC on the Deliberate Release into the Environment of Genetically Modified Organisms.

The labeling requirements should cover as many products as possible where reliable scientific tests exist to prove a GMO origin. The appropriate analytical criteria should therefore be determined following consultation of the committees which will assist the European Commission. Scientific verification techniques are likely to develop rapidly over the next few years and this technical progress would simply that, over time, more products would be covered by the labeling scheme. However, products, for which no agreed scientific verification of a GMO origin exists, could be labeled voluntarily by operators.

Label formulas

The labeling approach proposed here aims at informing consumers of the GMO origin of products through simple and neutral label formulas.

Produce without material of GMO origin can be marketed without any labeling. For products of certified non-GMO origin, the Commission considers that voluntary labeling should be facilitated through EU rules.

For GMO produce, two labeling options would exist: A formula such as "Contains material of GMO origin" would be required for produce containing material of GMO origin, where this could be verified scientifically.

In addition, the formula "May contain ..." would be allowed, as is presently the case in the Novel Foods Regulation and in Directive 90/220/EEC, to indicate uncertainty of whether, and in which proportion a product contains material of GMO origin. This formula should be allowed to take account of two factors. Firstly, mixing in bulk consignments is standard practice when there are no specific reasons for treating produce separately. Secondly, some degree of mixing is often the unavoidable result of normal practices in transport and handling, where identical equipment is used for multiple purposes.

In order to avoid widespread use of the "May contain ..." formula and thereby increase consumer information and choice, it is proposed to limit the use of the "May contain ..." formula by requiring that it is substituted by the "Contains .." formula whenever there is either documentary/label evidence or testing has shown the presence of GMO material. Testing for the presence of GMOs in bulk consignments is relatively easy.

The approach proposed by the Commission would lead to the following labeling:

-- Voluntary labeling (e.g. "this does not contain ... ") for certified non-GMO produce;

-- Mandatory labeling (e.g. "this contains ... ") for produce known to be of GMO origin. A possibility for operators to voluntary indicate, in addition, the proportion of produce of GMO origin in mixed products could be envisaged;

-- Mandatory labeling (e.g. "this may contain ... ") in cases where material of GMO origin cannot be excluded but where no evidence of such material is available.

SOURCE European Commission Delegation

CO: European Commission Delegation

ST: District of Columbia

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