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EU Passes Rules on Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods

EU Passes Rules on Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods

EU presents tough rules on gene labels, tracing
By David Evans

BRUSSELS, July 25 (Reuters) - The European Commission on Wednesday
unveiled long-awaited new rules on the labelling and traceability of
foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) aimed at
restarting its stalled approvals process.

Under the new requirements, all foods and animal feed derived from GMOs
have to be labelled and, in the case of processed goods, records have to
be kept throughout the production chain allowing the GMO to be traced
back to the farm.

"The provisions for traceability ensure a high level of environmental
and health protection and pave the way for a proper labelling system,"
EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said.

"Certainly there is a cost for the producers and for trade, but what is
at stake is our ability to build public confidence."

The requirements also cover highly refined products such as maize or
soyoil, where the original GMO content is removed during the production
process. These will have to be labelled as coming from GMOs although not
actually containing them.

U.S. farm groups have already called the concept of traceability
unworkable and fear the extra burden on producers could damage billions
of dollars of exports to the EU.

The United States has said it would prefer a system based on the testing
of the final product for GMO presence, which would therefore not cover
the refined products.

RESTART OF APPROVALS PROCESS

The new rules are designed to open the door to restarting the EU's
approval process for GMOs, which has been stalled for three years,
causing major trade friction with the United States, the world's biggest
GM crop grower.

Member states including France have pushed for labelling requirements as
a pre-condition for ending the moratorium on new GM approvals. But
Wallstrom said she could not say when the process could resume.

"We will talk to member states about it in the autumn. But I don't want
to give a date. We are in the confidence-building business," she told a
news conference.

EU Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne said there would be new rules
for authorisations when they started. There would be a "one door, one
key" procedure, under which GMOs would be cleared for both food and
animal feed use at the same time.

And in future, the scientific risk assessment would be carried out by
the soon-to-be-established European Food Authority before a 10-year
clearance could be granted, he added.

The EU has cleared 11 GMO crop varieties compared to the 40 or so that
are grown in the United States. However, there are many applications
stuck in the stalled clearance procedure, some of which have been
approved by EU scientific advisers.

ONE PERCENT 'ACCIDENTAL' THRESHOLD

Byrne said he recognised the possibility that minute traces of
unauthorised GMOs can be found in food and feed through a failure to
segregate crops during cultivation, harvesting, transport or processing.

"Whether we like it or not, it's a reality," he said.

He said such accidental traces of GMOs that have been cleared by the
EU's scientific advisers, even if they have not been received final
official approval, will be allowed in food and feed up to a maximum of
one percent without being subject to labelling requirements.

Environmental groups said the tolerance of such GMOs where they were
deemed to be "technically unavoidable" put the interests of the
biotechnology industry before consumers.

Friends of the Earth called it a "licence to pollute."

"All companies have to do now is to say that the GMO contamination they
created was 'accidental', and they get away with it," FoE's spokeswoman
Gill Lacroix said.

The Commission's plans will now be put to the European Parliament and
member state governments for discussion. They should enter into force in
2003 at the latest.

13:33 07-25-01

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