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Biotechnology: EU Commission for 0.1 per cent tolerance in feed imports


(29 October 2010) The EU Commission has presented its long-promised recommendation for tolerable magnitudes of unapproved genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agricultural imports: in the future, unintentional impurities should be permitted up to 0.1 per cent – but only for feed. Member States have yet to agree.

John Dalli, EU Commissioner for Consumer Protection, repeatedly had announced the coming of “technical solutions” for the problem of “minimal, technically unavoidable” admixtures of GMO in agricultural imports. In latest years, deliveries of maize and soybeans from the USA, Argentina and Brazil have been halted during entry to the EU due to trace findings of genetically modified plants unapproved in the EU.

The EU currently practises a ‚zero tolerance’ policy: regardless of its measured magnitude, any detection of an unapproved GMO in an agricultural delivery results in the prohibition of entry. Since new genetically modified (GM) plants increasingly are cultivated in North and South America, the cultivating countries also face increasing difficulty in fulfilling the zero tolerance demanded by the EU. Large trading companies in the agricultural sector have warned repeatedly of a feed shortage in Europe.

The EU Commission now intends to loosen the zero tolerance policy valid to date and has recommended that in the future minimal admixtures of unapproved GMO be allowed up to values of 0.1 per cent. Prerequisites are the approval of the GMO in question in the producing country, the assessment of the GMO as safe and the previous submission of approval applications in the EU. However, the 0.1-per-cent-tolerance is intended for exclusively for animal feed and not for food products.

Such varying regulations for food and feed are not only controversial in the Commission. The producing countries USA, Canada, Brazil and Argentina have submitted a written warning to the Commission that a "dividing line between food and feed" would lead to "insurmountable difficulties in agricultural trade". Conversely, several EU countries including Germany have announced support for a slackening of the zero tolerance policy only in the case that food products remain unaffected.

EU Member States must achieve the needed majority to approve the new legal guidelines presented by the Commission. The procedure requires at least six months and the new guidelines consequently would become operative in April 2011 at the earliest.

The threshold value of 0.1 per cent is regarded as the technical limit of detection. In the case of GMO content less than 0.1 per cent, current detection methods do not deliver unequivocal results.

 

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