STRASBOURG, France - The European Parliament has backed strict new European
Union rules on tracking and labeling genetically modified crops and food and feed
products made from them.
But Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Wednesday went further than
the changes advocated by the European Commission by voting to ban shipments of
conventional food and feed containing accidental traces of genetically modified
material that is not approved by the European Union.
The legislation given its parliamentary first reading today was presented
by the Commission a year ago, introducing harmonized EU traceability and labeling
for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Agreement on the rules is seen as crucial
for the lifting of a de facto moratorium on gene crop approvals.
The traceability requirements are relatively uncontroversial and most debate
has been over the labeling provisions.
Voting on an Environment Committee recommendation at its Strasbourg plenary
session, the parliament backed the Commission's plan to require even refined products
that no longer contain modified material to be labeled as derived from GMOs. They
also endorsed labeling of GMO-derived animal feeds. Neither need be labeled currently.
But MEPs rejected the committee's proposal to require labeling of products
from animals fed on GM feed, and also came down against labeling processing aids
such as GM enzymes, again following the Commission's line.
In what could prove to be the central issue during the second reading of the
proposals, MEPs threw out the Commission's plan to apply one percent tolerance
thresholds for the accidental presence of genetically modified material in non-modified
The presence of genetically modified material approved elsewhere in the world
but not in the EU should be banned entirely, they said, while the threshold for
EU approved material should be lowered to 0.5 percent.
Biotechnology industry lobbyists were dismayed. "They [MEPs] don't seem to
understand that the rest of the world is moving on and using this technology.
We think the thresholds are simply unattainable," Simon Barber of Europabio told
reporters. Food industry lobby CIAA expressed similar sentiments.
Anti-biotechnology campaigners were jubilant. Friends of the Earth called
the vote a "major success for consumers and a serious defeat for the biotech industry
and the U.S. government."
If adopted, the thresholds would force significant changes in American agricultural
practices to access EU markets and the Bush administration has indicated it could
take action through the World Trade Organization .
The U.S. mission in Brussels expressed disappointment with the vote. An official
said, "Regrettably, the European parliament has chosen to ignore our repeated
expressions of concern that the Commission's proposals were unworkable, costly
and subject to fraud. The proposals will seriously impair trade in agricultural
The Commission welcomed the backing for its labeling plans but said restricting
the tolerance thresholds would "put significant obstacles in the way" of implementing
the rules and "hamper" international trade.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2002