Food experts set GM contamination threshold

1% contamination level expected to be heavy burden on industry, slammed by environmentalists

Food producers will have to indicate that their products contain genetically modified ingredients if the GM content exceeds 1%, EU member state food experts decided today. The decision will facilitate a common European labelling system and will force producers to prove that none of their ingredients is contaminated above the threshold. In a separate decision, member states agreed a regulation requiring manufacturers to label products containing additives or flavourings derived from GM products.

Current EU rules require GM foods to be labelled but do not set a threshold below which labelling would not be required. In addition, the novel foods directive does not apply to two varieties of maize and soya that were licensed in the EU before it came into force.

Endorsed by 14 of the EU's member states under a qualified majority voting procedure, today's agreement applies to these varieties of maize and soya, but will also apply in future to any new GM foods authorised under the novel foods directive.

Under the agreement, which is expected to come into force next year, any product in which over 1% of the maize or soya content is genetically modified will have to be labelled as containing GM ingredients. The threshold is designed to allow for inadvertent mixing at farms, during shipment or in processing.

A Commission official said it was impossible to estimate the number of products that would have to be labelled, but added that producers had for some time been avoiding maize and soya from the USA, because of difficulties involved establishing its GM content.

Despite the absence of clear EU-level labelling requirements some member states already oblige retailers to label GM ingredients in their products. However, many retailers operate to stricter contamination thresholds than agreed today. UK environment group Friends of the Earth immediately criticised the decision, saying it would "encourage many food producers to weaken their standards for sourcing food free from GMOs".

A Commission spokesperson stressed today that any products falling below the threshold contamination level would not eligible for "GM-free" label. A specific regulation allowing such a label would be considered soon, he said, but with a much stricter contamination threshold. In practice, he said, most products would fall in the "grey area" between the two thresholds and remain unlabelled.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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