US Tries to Impede EU Labeling on GE Foods

US Tries to Impede EU Labeling on GE Foods

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U.S. Agriculture Divided on Approach to Pending EU Biotech Regime
11 May, Inside US Trade

With the European Union looking at allowing one percent tolerances for
genetically modified crops in shipments claiming to be biotech-free, U.S.
agriculture representatives are split over whether to fight for higher
tolerances of at least five percent or argue for zero tolerances that will
make efforts to obtain biotech-free crops prohibitively expensive and force
the EU to rethink its anti-GMO strictures.

Agriculture representatives have made both arguments to EU officials in
consultations over the past several weeks regarding the EU's draft
traceability regulation which mandates documentation specifying varieties of
GMOs in bulk commodity shipments

A March draft of the regulation leaves open the threshold level, but says it
should take into account existing thresholds in EU legislation. The current
labelling rules allow a one percent unintended presence of GMOs in food
labelled GMO-free, as does draft legislation that would replace the current
regime with process-based labelling for foods derived from GMO ingredients.
U.S. agriculture representatives who favour the zero-threshold approach say
they refuse to get into a numbers game with the EU, arguing that the goal of
the EU effort -- to provide consumers with a choice of non-GMO foods --
would be better served with a zero tolerance level, and more stringent
testing. The proposed EU regime leaves testing, enforcement and penalties up
to the member states, which U.S. industry argues will create a haphazard and
unpredictable trading environment. U.S. industry sources criticized the
effort as an attempt to mollify the political opposition to GMOs by setting
up a traceability system of documentation that is unchecked and ripe for

A stricter regime would make it more difficult for shippers to claim
GMO-free status, and discourage the current, untested claims that pass as
GMO-free. In particular, U.S. soybean interests are competing with soybeans
from Brazil that are purported to be GMO-free but also contain GMO varieties
grown in the south of the country according to U.S. industry sources
A stricter GMO-free regime would effectively force buyers to pay a high
premium for these "identity-preserved" varieties, kept pure by segregation
in the commodity system. This price differential would increase the pressure
by feeders and consumers to accept GMO crops. Finally, the difficulty in
sourcing 100 percent GMO free commodities could lead to a rethinking of the
anti-GMO strictures.

But other industry sources hotly contest this argument, saying that a zero
tolerance would effectively exclude non-GMO soybeans and corn from the U.S.
Instead, these interests have told the EU that a minimum five percent
threshold is necessary for the bulk commodity shipments to be commercially
feasible. They point to Japanese labelling rules that set five percent
thresholds and say that seed varieties planted by farmers only guarantee 98
percent purity. In addition, they claim that current testing methodology
has a level of error that makes it too likely that shipments will
erroneously be found to breach that low threshold.

Operators would also have to supply evidence that they have taken
appropriate steps to avoid using GMOs or GMO-derived products in order to
show that any presence of GMOs was "adventitious," or unintended, setting
them up for potential liability.

In developing its traceability regulation, the Commission is seeking to walk
a fine line by bowing to member state demands to regulate GMO foods while
avoiding touching off a contentious trade dispute with the U.S.
EU officials are putting forward the one percent number as a likely
threshold, although there is still a possibility for even lower threshold of
0.5 percent, and others within the EU are arguing for between three and five
percent, according to EU and industry sources. In addition, a separate
threshold is yet to be decided for animal feed in draft EU legislation.
Another decision on a threshold for GMO varieties as yet unapproved in the
EU-- which the European Commission is considering allowing to make up for
the blocking of GMO approvals by a group of member states -- is almost
certain to be lower than the one percent threshold, and possibly as low as
0.1 percent, according to one industry source. The draft novel food
legislation exempts foods from new approvals if they have an accidental
inclusion of 0.5 percent biotech-derived ingredients.

Such thresholds would effectively keep U.S. corn shipments out of the EU, as
they have been since member states blocked approval of new GMO varieties
from the U.S., industry sources said. Other industry sources expressed
doubt that EU member states could be convinced to accept any presence of
non-approved varieties.

The draft EU food and feed legislation, which is still a work in progress
and subject to revision within the commission, also has the most elaborate
enunciation to date of a proposed regulation for process-based labelling.
It calls for labelling any product that contains or is derived from GMOs,
but allows the adventitious use of GMOs up to a one percent threshold.
Labels would require that GMO ingredients be listed as such in the list of
contents, or that the product have a prominent footnote to the list of
ingredients saying it contained GMOs. In addition, where the food is no
longer equivalent to a non-GMO variety, such difference shall be mentioned
in the label. The possible differences range from nutritional value and
possible health concerns to "ethical or religious concerns."

U.S. producers claim that the EU public's antipathy to GMOs means such
labels amount to a "skull and crossbones" on their products. They claim such
labels have no basis in any known health risks. Process-based labels would
label products derived from GMOs even where there is no test that can
distinguish them from GMO free products.

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