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Germany: New standard GMO-free logo introduced

(11 August 2009) The German Minister for Agriculture, Ilse Aigner (CDU), has presented a standardised logo for food products ‘without gene technology’. Improvement of the poor acceptance of the ‘without gene technology’ label is expected thereby. To date, only a few manufacturers have made use of this tag.

Since May 2008, it has been possible in Germany to apply the label ‘without gene technology’ to food products. Its primary application is in the identification of foods, such as milk or meat, derived from animals for which no genetically modified plants such as maize or soy were used in feed. However, in contrast to other foodstuffs, a declaration of being ‘without gene technology’ also is permitted for animal-based products even in the case that vitamins, enzymes or other additives manufactured with gene technology were present in feed.

The criteria are stricter for other foodstuffs: neither the application of additives obtained through genetic modification nor the accidental admixture of genetically modified plants is allowed. To date, however, products ‘without gene technology’ have not been broadly available. With the exception of a dairy commodity from the Campina company, the products to which this declaration has been applied generally are made by small, regional manufacturers.

With the presentation of a standardised logo, Minister Aigner stated the goal of  "making it easier for consumers to choose food products without gene technology in an informed manner." The minister also indicated its provision of "more freedom of choice" and its "enhancement of transparency when shopping for groceries." The new logo is expected to be made available to interested manufacturers free of charge.

It remains questionable whether this step actually will lead to more goods with such a label. For many manufacturers and even for those producing organic commodities, it may be difficult to fulfil the relevant criteria for the long term. In the production of additives, enzymes and flavourings, the direct or indirect application of genetically modified organisms is widespread. In the use of plant-based raw materials, traces of genetically modified plants and particularly of soy and maize cannot be ruled out with absolute certainty, even in the case that ‘gene-technology-free’ raw materials were purchased.

In contradiction, certain applications of gene technology are permitted in animal-based food products such as milk, eggs or meat, which is cited by representatives of the food industry as the source of a "credibility problem." Manufacturers do not use the ‘without gene technology’ tag for fear of losing customer trust if it were broadly known that products ‘without gene technology’ actually do not guarantee a general exclusion of gene technology.

Notwithstanding this issue, environmental organisations and consumer groups greeted the ‘without gene technology’ logo.


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