ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  3 March 2001


Perspective: The GMO Debate Will Only Grow More Heated & Confusing
By Chris Harris - - 1 March 2001

With the European Commission`s recent publication of new rules governing the production and distribution of genetically modified foods and organisms, the debate surrounding GMOs is set to intensify.

The new rules will strengthen the existing regulation of genetically modified feed by introducing compulsory consultation with the public regarding the growth of GMOs, mandatory labeling and traceability at all market stages, and mandatory monitoring of the long-term effects.

The commission asserts that the directive will provide the foundation for a coherent, transparent, and efficient regulatory framework to cover the handling of GMOs.

However, another commission plan promises to have an even greater impact on the world market. The European Commission expects to soon have a similar set of regulations governing traceability and labeling of GMOs through the entire food chain in addition to those governing GM feed.
The implications of this measure are immense.

There has always been a gulf between the way in which European countries view food safety issues and the way in which many other countries view them. Though all countries have the same goal (producing a safe food supply), countries such as the United States look towards strict science to reassure consumers that their food is safe, while Europeans invoke the precautionary principle. There are more ``maybes`` and ``what ifs`` in the way the consumer lobby in Europe looks at food safety. Hence the concept of traceability and labeling - keeping the consumer informed - comes about naturally in European markets.

A major problem with GMOs lies in the potential need to label meat from animals that have been fed GMO animal feed. If the European Commission extends the traceability and labeling regulations to GM feed as it suggests, then GM-related meat labeling will certainly follow. The
required trace-back, particularly for imported meat and poultry products, is going to produce countless problems. Indeed, it could cause such a ripple that it will eventually become an unofficial trading barrier.

Another problem that strict labeling and traceability of feed presents to Europeans is the need for a substitute protein in feed for meat and bonemeal. Obviously plant, and in particular soy protein, are the most efficient substitutes. Soy is one of the crops that is most advanced along the genetically modified route, but Europe is unlikely to grow enough soy itself - either GM or otherwise - to meet its protein feed demand. Europe will have to rely heavily on soy imports. However, enforcing labeling and tracking methods on imports of soy feed will be another nightmare.

The gulf between the pro- and anti-GMO lobby will now grow wider with the new regulations put forward by the European Commission. As the demand for more soy and soy products around the world grows, the genetically modified alternative might appear the easy answer to boost
production. However, the commission`s recent actions give ammunition to GMO opponents who will argue that the commission`s push to regulate GMOs proves the potential problems GMOs present.

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