ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

16 October 2002


Blair - America's fly in Europe's GE-free balm
Embargoed: 00:01 hours
Thursday 17 October 2002



Photo Opportunity [1]
8:30 am, Thursday 17th October, in front of the European Council Building, Luxembourg

The UK Government will be the only EU country to oppose European Commission proposals to ensure that food containing GM-derived ingredients is properly labelled when European Environment Ministers discuss the issue in Luxembourg tomorrow (Thursday 17). The position is revealed in limited circulation documents obtained by Friends of the Earth. The UK is also pushing to lift a four year European moratorium on the licensing of new GM food and crops. Friends of the Earth says that their position shows that once again the UK is supporting the interests of the biotech industry over those of consumers and the environment.

The European Commission proposals aim to make GM labelling rules more comprehensive. At present EU rules say that food containing 1 per cent or more of GM DNA must be labelled. The current proposals tighten the regulations to cover animal feed and GM derivatives (such as vegetable oil and maize syrup). The move would allow consumers to choose whether or not they eat GM-derived food. Recent Europe-wide opinion polls indicate that 71 per cent of the public do not want to eat GM food, and 94 per cent want clear labelling to give them a choice.

UK opposition to GM labelling was revealed when the proposals were discussed in July. Council of the European Union documents reveal that the UK was alone in consistently opposing the extension of regulations to cover derivatives in food and animal feed (copies available from FOE). Friends of the Earth understands that the position of the UK Government, and that of other EU Member States, have not changed.

European Environment Ministers are expected to discuss a number of crucial GM issues at Thursday's meeting. These include [2]:
. new proposals for the labelling and traceability of GMOs;
. environmental liability;
. whether to end the European Union GM moratorium on commercial GM approvals.

Friends of the Earth GM Campaigner Pete Riley said: "Once again the UK Government is putting the interests of the biotech industry ahead of consumers and the environment. Why else is the UK opposing European GM labelling rules when every other EU Member State supports the proposals? They also want to end the moratorium on licensing new GM food and crops, despite the absence of any rules to protect farmers, consumers and the environment from unwanted GM contamination.

"The Government's stance on this issue makes a complete mockery of its claim to have an 'open mind' on GM issues. It also further undermines the credibility of the Government's 'public debate' on GM crops."

Friends of the Earth is concerned that widespread growing of GM crops will:
. remove consumer choice - European scientists have already warned that contamination from commercial growing of GM crops would lead to non-GM farmers having to label their foods as containing GM.
. threaten the environment - UK Government wildlife watchdogs have warned that new proposals to allow contamination of non-GM seeds could result in adverse impacts on farmland biodiversity"
. create chaos in the countryside which could end up with  farmers suing
farmers, organic farming threatened and the rights of people to grow GM free food seriously undermined;
. compromise farming options for future generations - many GM crops are virtually irrecoverable and will contaminate both the food chain and the countryside.

Friends of the Earth believes that the existing moratorium should stay until:
. consumer choice is protected and guaranteed
. full labelling and traceability rules are in place
. specific liability legislation is in place making biotech companies liable for any future problems
. seed production is protected from contamination
. protection of organic and conventional farms from contamination is legally binding

Last week, hundreds of protestors from 14 European countries took to the streets of Brussels calling for their food to be protected from GM contamination. Pictures available from

A media briefing on the EU Ministers meeting follows/ is available for  Friends of the Earth

 [1]  Fifteen Supermarket trolleys (one to represent each EU Member State) filled with GM-free food will be outside the Council Building to remind ministers that the vast majority of European consumers want the right to choose GM free food. Ministers are expected to arrive at 8.45am. Contact Geert Ritsema on 00 31 6 290 05908 (mobile).

[2]  Friends of the Earth is calling on ministers to urgently discuss controversial measures to allow conventional seeds to be contaminated with significant levels of GM seed. The European Commission proposals have been criticised by English Nature and other British statutory nature conservation bodies because of the potentially damaging impact such a move would have on the environment and farmers.

European Environment Minister meeting in Luxembourg, Thursday 17th October

EU Environment Ministers are expected to discuss a range of GM-related issues when they meet in Luxembourg. These will include GM labelling and environmental liability. The de facto GM moratorium might also be raised.  Friends of the Earth will be in Luxembourg during these meetings. Pictures will be available.

1. Tougher GM labelling Regulations
European Environment Ministers will consider the labelling proposals which have been drawn up by the European Commission. The proposals - which ministers may amend - then go to MEPs before finally becoming law.

The proposals are aimed at making GM labelling rules more comprehensive. At present EU rules say that food containing one per cent or more of GM DNA must be labelled. The new proposals tighten the labelling regulations by:

.. Labelling GM derivatives
It has been estimated that 30,000 products may contain GM soya and GM maize derived ingredients such as vegetable oil or maize syrup. These do not currently have to be labelled as they don't contain DNA. Under the new regulations a 'full traceability' regime will be set up so that it will be possible to tell whether the derivatives have come from GM or conventional crops. GM crop derivatives will then have to be labelled. This will enable food manufacturers to avoid using GM derivatives if they choose.  The proposal is supported by FOE.

.. Labelling of GM animal feeds
Under the proposals GM animal feeds will have to be labelled. This is also supported by FOE

There are also a number of important issues surrounding the labelling proposals.

.. A 1% contamination threshold.
The European Commission says that if GM material makes up less than 1 per cent of the food item, the product will not have to be labelled. Earlier this year the EU Parliament voted for a 0.5 % threshold. Friends of the Earth believe the threshold should be at the level of detectability. This should be at least 0.1% - although many retailers can detect GM down to 0.01%. Consumers should be told if there are detectable levels of GM material in their food so that they can avoid it if they choose.

.. Danish 'transitionary measures' proposal
The Danes hold the EU Presidency and they have put forward 'transitionary measures' that would seriously weaken the new regulations. These measures would allow food contaminated by GMOs that  haven't been authorised in Europe - up to a 1% threshold - to be sold in Europe for three years, without being labelled. For example this could mean that for a period of three years, the equivalent of one in every hundred tomatoes sold could be a GM variety unapproved in Europe, and - because it wouldn't need to be labelled - would be almost impossible for consumers to avoid.

.. The US and GM labels
The US is known to oppose the labelling of GM food and has raised a number of questions about it with the WTO. They say that rather than having a label that tells consumers if a product contains GM material, food companies could instead choose to have a GM-free label if their product was GM-free. Unsurprisingly this idea has been dismissed by the EU. See:

2. Environmental liability
European proposals on environmental liabilty are so full of caveats and get-outs that they are almost useless. For example they do not cover economic damage - such as the contamination of organic crops through cross-pollination with GM crops. See:

3. De facto European GM moratorium
The EU has not allowed any new GM food or crops to be licensed since 1998. But European ministers are coming under increasing pressure from the biotech industry and the US to lift this de facto moratorium. This issue may be raised when ministers meet in Luxembourg.  Friends of the Earth wants the moratorium to continue at least until full safety regulations against the risks of GMOs are in place, and laws requiring the labelling of all GM food are fully operational and action is taken to protect foods and neighbouring farmers from contamination. More information:

Pete Riley 0113 389 9955/ 07712 843 210 (m)

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