More delay for GM product labelling rules

European Commission releases new draft texts, but formal proposal put back to June

A long-awaited proposal for EU rules on traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and products through the food chain will not now emerge until June, but a new draft text from the European Commission has built on previous versions (ENDS Daily 19 February) to further clarify its intentions.

Traceability and labelling rules are intended to flesh out the recently overhauled "deliberate release" directive on market authorisation of GMO products used in the environment. The EU wants to ensure that all approved GM "events" can be tracked through distribution networks.

Formal legal proposals were promised last year but have suffered repeated delays, in part due to the EU's desire to avoid fresh trade skirmishes with the USA. Farmers there complain that traceability requirements would force costly crop segregation for bulk grain exports.

Latest draft Commission proposals on traceability suggest no legal obligation on crop producers to provide information on GM content. If they do not do this, however, then EU importers would have to test shipments and report on GM content. In practice, this would put considerable commercial pressure on farmers to segregate.

Under its draft GM feed and food proposals the Commission envisages a single centralised authorisation procedure granting ten-year marketing consents for products containing, consisting of or derived from EU-approved GMOs.

Authorisation would depend on a public consultation, and products would be labelled as "genetically modified" in the list of ingredients. There is no proposal for a "GM-free" type label and the requirements would not apply retroactively to products already on the market.

Producers of non-GM foods would also have to seek EU authorisation unless they could show no accidental GM contamination above a 0.5% threshold. Labelling would be required above a 1% threshold. This could have major implications since EU scientists recently warned that the 1% threshold currently in place for some food products would soon become impractical (ENDS Daily 15 March).

The revised deliberate release directive took effect on 17 April and must be transposed into national laws of EU member states by October next year. The Commission hopes that additional traceability and labelling rules will persuade governments to lift a de facto moratorium on new GM crop approvals (ENDS Daily 16 February).

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. See also the formal text of the deliberate release directive (2001/18) in OJ L106 17 April 2001.

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