Green Groups in EU Criticize New GE Food Labeling Rules

Green Groups in EU Criticize New GE Food Labeling Rules

Inter Press Service
July 26, 2001, Thursday

By Brian Kenety

The European Commission's proposed regulations for tracing and labeling
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and animal feed fall
dangerously short in preventing their unauthorized release into the
European market, environmentalists warned today.
They were reacting to Commission proposals yesterday to lift a 1998
moratorium on new approvals of GMO plant varieties while setting out what it
called the "world's most stringent" rules on controlling and monitoring
their release.

The new regulations would set up a centralized approval process for
authorizing GMOs and a detailed system to trace them throughout the food
chain, from the farm to the grocery store.
Labels would be placed on goods to the effect that: "This product does not
contain but is derived from GMOs." That could apply, for example, to eggs
from chickens and milk from cows that consume GMO feed.
EU Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne said the rules would allow consumers
to choose whether or not to eat food derived from GMOs. Consumers, he added,
"can be assured that any GMOs in their food have been assessed strictly for
their safety."

The environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the introduction of a more
thorough labeling regime, which includes products derived from GMOs such as
oil and starch in food, as well as animal feed, which is the bulk of present
GMO imports into the EU.

But the group said the new regulations include a "dangerous loophole" with
respect to cross-pollination and contamination of non-GMO and organic crops.
This is because the Commission proposed to set a 1 percent tolerance
threshold not only for authorized but also for unauthorized GMOs. Below that
threshold, their presence in a product would not need to be approved
or labeled.

To take effect, the plan must be approved by the 15 EU member states and the
European Parliament.

"If the European Parliament and Council endorsed this provision, EU member
states would in fact give up their sovereignty over the regulation of GMOs
to some extent," said Greenpeace.

Another leading pressure group, Friends of the Earth (FoE), described the
rules as a concession to the biotech industry, giving it "licence to
pollute" to the detriment of European citizens.

"All companies have to do now is to say that the GMO contamination they
created was 'accidental', and they get away with it," said Gill Lacroix,
biotechnology coordinator at FoE Europe. "It's the thin end of the wedge
syndrome -- they will contaminate our agriculture and food supply and
that contamination will self-perpetuate as time goes on."
Lacroix said the biotech industries have convinced the Commission "to
legislate on how to accommodate GMO pollution, rather than to act on how to
prevent it."

The Commission has proposed applying these exemptions only to those GMOs
that have already received a favorable risk assessment by the EU scientific
committee but that lack final market approval from the member states'
competent authorities and ministers.

Scientists as well as politicians and NGOs have frequently questioned the
scientific committee's favorable opinions on GMOs over the past years.
Greenpeace charged that the committee's conclusion, that "zero tolerance" of
seed contamination from unauthorized GMOs is unworkable in practice, was
based on political and commercial assumptions rather than
scientific criteria.

Pioneered in the United States and on the market since the early 1990s, GMOs
have been treated with extreme caution by the EU until now.
The concept of modifying plants to make them immune to herbicides or to
control the ripening process has raised fears in Europe that "superweeds"
could spread out of control and that modified products -- not yet thoroughly
tested -- could have catastrophic effects on public health.

The industry is so new that the full implications of the new biotechnology
are not known and much of Europe is against even carrying out controlled
tests on GMO crops.

But European and international companies producing genetically altered corn,
potatoes, tomatoes and other foods have eagerly awaited -- and lobbied for
-- regulatory approval.

In February, the European Parliament argued that Europe needed to lift the
moratorium -- while putting in place controls on GMOs -- in order to be
competitive in biotechnology.

"Industry cannot wait forever. We must keep Europe in the fast lane on
biotechnology," said Euro-parliamentarian David Bowe, author of the body's
proposal to monitor GMOs, much of which has been incorporated into the
Commission's proposal presented yesterday.

However, Greenpeace European Unit political advisor Brigid Gavin argued that
the Commission's proposal to set a 1 percent tolerance threshold not only
for authorized but also for unauthorized GMOs is the "wrong reaction" to
increased pressure and threats from the U.S. administration and GMO
producing companies like Monsanto, Aventis, Syngenta and DuPont.

"If the EU sets clear and uncompromising safety standards the market will
adapt to them," she said. "Opening loopholes like this, however, invites
them to continue with their present strategy of sneaking unwanted and
dangerous GMOs into our food chain."

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