Extending the labelling requirements
19. The current labelling regime allows consumers
to choose whether or not to buy products containing GM material.
Under the proposed new regime (option c above), this choice would
be extended to allow consumers to identify food derived from GM
material. In opting for this approach, the Commission recognised
that some consumers may wish to avoid GM foods for reasons other
than concern over avoiding exposure to GM material. However, the
proposals have raised concerns. The FSA suggests they are inconsistent,
in that they do not require labelling of all foods produced using
GM technology (see table above). It also sees potential problems
in enforcing the proposed new regulations.
20. Some of the products (e.g. oil from GM soybeans)
that would need to be labelled under the new proposals do not
contain GM material. The GM status of such products cannot be
verified by testing for GM material in the laboratory. Rather,
verification will rely solely on the Commission's proposed "audit
trail". Audit-based systems have been established for other
foods (e.g. organic foods, fair trade tea/coffee and animal welfare-friendly
meat) and enjoy high levels of consumer trust.
21. There would be exemptions from the labelling
requirements where GMOs have only been used as processing aids.
This practice is widespread in the wine, cheese
and brewing industries. Permission has also been given for their
use in the baking industries, although we understand they are
not yet in use in the UK. Vitamins used to fortify food and sold
as "supplements" may also be products from GM-derived
processing aids. Because they are only used as processing aids,
they are present at well below one per cent even during the manufacturing
steps and will have effectively have been removed entirely by
the time the finished product emerges. Such exemptions would therefore
provide no comfort to those whose objection to GM technology is
based on ethical grounds.
22. Since the proposals would apply only from the
point of entry into the EU, some have questioned how the GM "audit
trail" would work in practice, particularly for imported
bulk commodities such as GM soybeans and maize from North America
The American Soybean Association (ASA) suggests that it would
not be possible to implement an "audit trail" that allowed
GM material to be traced back to the farm.
This is because international trade in grains is based on a commodity
flow system where no distinction is made between GM and non-GM
crops. For instance, in the US distribution system, GM and non-GM
varieties are assembled into successively bigger batchesa
typical shipment arriving in the EU contains up to 50,000 tonnes
of crops originating from thousands of farms. For an "audit
trail" starting at the point of entry into the EU, the importer
would have to sample and test each shipment for its GM content.
This information would be passed on to each operator in the chain
and form the basis for verifying labelling requirements. ASA are
concerned that such a system would be open to fraud (a concern
shared by the FSA), and would incur considerable extra costs.
Introducing a "GM-free"
23. The FSA sees option (b)maintaining the
current labelling regime and introducing a "GM-free"
schemeas representing the best balance between costs and
benefits. Under this option, manufacturers could sell foods conforming
to certain criteria as being "GM-free" (e.g. specifying
measures to minimise contamination throughout the food chain and
establishing a threshold for unavoidable with GM material). The
Government sees this option as having advantages over the Commission's
proposals as the current labelling rules are practicable and enforceable,
and the introduction of a "GM-free" scheme would allow
consumers to avoid GM technology if they so wish. US farmers also
favour such an approach. They have been supplying "identity
preserved" (IP) lines for years, including some IP "non-GM"
lines. These are generally in smaller quantities and are kept
entirely separate from the usual bulk distribution system through
all stages of harvesting, transport, processing, etc. IP lines
command a premium in the market to cover the additional costs
incurred in maintaining integrity.
24. In general, consumer groups support option (c+)the
Commission's proposal to extend labelling requirements to include
all foods produced from GM sources backed up with a "GM-free"
scheme. There is strong support for the separation of GM and non-GM
foods throughout the marketing chain and for measures to allow
GM foods to be traced.
of current and proposed GM labelling requirements
|Food/feed||Labelling currently required?
||Labelling required by Commission's proposals?
||Labelling required by FSA's proposals?
|Food produced from GM crops and containing GM material
|Food produced from GM crops but not containing GM material
|Food produced using GM organisms but not containing GM material (e.g. wine and cheese)
|GM animal feed sold to livestock producers
|Food from animals fed GM animal feeds
|Non-GM foods with less than 1% presence of GM material
||No (unless claimed to be "GM-free")
The wider picture
25. There has been a de facto moratorium on
approvals of new GM products within the EU since 1998, pending
revision of the deliberate release Directive.
This Directive is due to be implemented in national laws by October
2002; the Commission had hoped this would signal the end of the
blockage in approvals, which it considers to be illegal. Several
Member States have suggested that the approvals process should
not be restarted until the new traceability and labelling regime
is implemented; this could extend the blockage until mid 2003
and possibly into 2004. Any such extension could increase the
likelihood of the EU facing action through the WTO. It is also
possible that the Commission's labelling and traceability proposals
might themselves be the subject of action through the WTO.
26. The EU's proposals on traceability and GMOs were
notified to the WTO Committees on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
(SPS) and on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) in 2001. At meetings
of those Committees, most recently in March 2002, the US has complained
about the lack of scientific justification for the de facto
moratorium, and Canada has suggested that the proposals discriminate
against products produced by GM technology, thus raising the question
whether they might be perceived as a barrier to trade.
27. The assessment of rules for the regulation of
GMOs fall within the remit of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment
(CTE), set up in 1994 at the end of the Uruguay Round. The Committee
also aims to clarify the relationship between WTO rules and the
specific trade obligations of certain multilateral environmental
agreements (MEAs), such as the Convention on Biological Diversity
and the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol (see paragraph 0 and Box
3). Another issue, to be examined in the CTE as well as the TBT
Committee, is that of policies on eco-labelling (i.e. labelling
which provides information on the environmental characteristics
of a product) and whether existing WTO rules stand in the way
of such policies.
1 Initially Austria, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy
and Luxembourg; later joined by Belgium. Back
In summarising the essential features of the Commission's proposals
we have drawn heavily on the Parliamentary Office of Science and
Technology's Postnote No 172, February 2002, "Labelling
GM Foods". We are grateful to the Director of POST for agreeing
to the note being used in this way. Back
Based on a simple definition in the Report of the New Zealand
Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, 27 July 2001. Back
ECC 2nd Report, Session 199899, EC Regulation of Genetic
Modification in Agriculture, HL Paper 11, 15 December 1998. Back
Science and Technology Committee (May 1999), Scientific Advisory
System: Genetically Modified Food, First Report, 1998-99,
HC 286-I/II.; Environmental Audit Committee (May 1999), Genetically
Modified Organisms and the Environment: Co-ordination of Government
Policy, Fifth Report, 1998-99, HC 384-I/II.; Agriculture Committee
(June 1999), Genetically Modified Organisms, Sixth Report,
1998-99, HC 427; Agriculture Committee (March 2000), The Segregation
of Genetically Modified Foods, Third Report, 1999-2000, HC
71-I/II; Agriculture Committee (July 2000), Genetically Modified
Organisms and Seed Segregation, Eighth Report, 1999-2000,
HC 812. For an account of reactions to the House of Lords Report,
the various House of Commons Reports and subsequent developments
in government policy, see Institute for European Environmental
Policy, Manual of Environmental Policy: the EU and Britain,
Elsevier Science Ltd, Oxford (updated every six months), at section
i.e. Directive 2001/18/EC, adopted in March 2001. Back
Evidence to the inquiry from FSA (p 56 at paragraph 5.2), BBSRC
(p 84 at paragraphs 9-10), Food and Drink Federation (Q 37) and
Friends of the Earth (QQ 103-5). Back
An example is chymosin ("vegetarian rennet"). Back
According to the FSA, the US grows 68% of the world's GM crops,
Argentina 22%, Canada 6% and China 3%. In the US alone 70% of
its soya bean crop is GM, 75% of its cotton crop, 50% of oilseed
rape and 25% of maize (evidence to the inquiry, p 55 at paragraph
3.1, footnote). Back
Evidence pp 77-78. Back
Directive 2001/18/EC. Back
Information about the Committee is on the WTO's website at http://www.wto.org. Back