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GMO Labelling: Guidelines

New Labelling Laws: What Has Changed?


On 18 April 2004, new regulations for the labelling of genetically modified foods and feed came into effect. For consumers, this only means that more products have to be labelled. For the food industry, this means coming up with systems for controlling and verifying the status of goods.

Old regulations: Proof-based

The old guidelines for labelling were part of the EU novel food regulation of 1997. Genetically modified foods required labelling only if GM content could be detected in the final product.

Proof of GM content could be obtained by testing for characteristic, genetically modified DNA fragments.

  • The proof-based GMO labelling basis indicated that a product could be differentiated from its conventional counterpart by testing.

  • Compliance to these rules could be directly determined by checking the final products themselves. This enforceability helped protect consumers against fraud.

If DNA fragments needed for detecting GMOs were no longer present or intact, it could not be determined if the product was made from GMOs.

  • According to this principle, foods donít need to be labelled if they have been processed to the point that GMO content can no longer be detected.

New regulations: Process-oriented

Todayís regulations are based on a different principle: All food products that make direct use of GMOs at any point in their production are subjected to labelling requirements, regardless of whether or not GM content is detectable in the end product.

  • This basis for labelling gives information about the use of genetic engineering, regardless of its effect on the productís final composition.

  • It may be the case that physically identical products have different labelling requirements. Under this labelling regulation, it doesnít matter if the differences become impossible to measure. The main principle is the use of a GM product at some point in the processing and production.

  • In many cases, enforcing these labelling regulations can no longer be done with the food itself. Protecting consumers from fraud demands a much greater investment of energy and resources than with the proof-based system.

Traceability instead of analytical proof

Specialised traceability infrastructure must be developed for the new process-oriented regulatory system.

  • Each stakeholder that produces or trades GM raw materials, ingredients, or foods is obligated to pass information on to subsequent stakeholders in the food supply chain.

  • Documentation must be retained for five years.

  • It must always be possible to trace the route of a GMO from the farm to the final product.

  • Upon authorisation, every GMO is assigned an ID number that can be used to identify it at all times.

  • The basis for traceability and requirements for the food industry are outlined by EU directive 1830/2003.

This basis for labelling can only offer consumers complete and reliable information when stakeholders are held tightly to accountability.

Local governments are responsible for monitoring the GMO content of products. If analytical tests on a product canít confirm that labelling regulations have been upheld, indirect means of enforcement are needed.

  • In these cases, monitoring is conducted by requesting written documentation such as certificates or results of GMO testing from earlier stages in production.

  • Analytical tests can be used for enforcement only at early steps in the food supply chain, where food products still retain enough intact DNA to enable testing.

A seamless monitoring of the food supply chain becomes exceedingly challenging when it comes to international trade.

The new basis for regulation: Thresholds for GMO content

GM content that is below the prescribed threshold remains unlabelled, as long as it is due to an unintentional and technically unavoidable mixture.

  • The threshold is 0.9 percent.

  • The threshold only applies to GM content that has been authorised in the EU, and therefore is considered safe.

  • Imported GMOs that have not yet received authorisation in the EU, but have nevertheless been subjected to scientific safety evaluations in Europe, are tolerated to a threshold of 0.5 percent. As of April 2007, the threshold will be lowered to 0.0 percent.

  • Mixtures with GM content from GMOs that have not yet completely undergone a safety evaluation are not tolerated.

 


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

More information

December 15, 2005 [nach oben springen]

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