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A coalition of some of Europe?s most vocal campaign groups has called on the
European Commission to rethink a proposal on the labelling of genetically
modified organisms, urging the law makers to allow Europe?s massively
anti-GM population the freedom to choose products which are guaranteed GM
free, September 2004 .
The Commission is due to adopt a proposal for a Decision ?establishing
minimum thresholds for adventitious or technically unavoidable traces of
genetically modified seeds in other products? on 8 September.
But according to the coalition (which consists of Greenpeace, Friends of the
Earth, the European Environmental Bureau, Coldiretti, Europe?s largest
farmers? organisation, international organic movement IFOAM, the European
Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism trade unions and Eurocoop, the
European consumer co-operatives association), the proposal would allow maize
and oilseed rape seed lots to contain up to 0.3 per cent of genetically
modified organisms without being labelled ? and mark the end of consumer
freedom of choice.
The previous rules allowed for a threshold of 0.9 per cent for the
accidental presence of GM material.
?[This Decision] provides no guarantee that farmers and the food industry
will be able to continue offering non-GM products below the 0.9 per cent
labelling threshold for final products,? said Eric Gall, policy advisor for
Greenpeace?s European unit. ?It will also load serious additional costs on
economic operators all along the production chain.?
Moreover, the Decision will effectively tie the hands of national
governments wanting to protect traditional farming techniques in their own
countries. ?EU member states, which are supposed to develop national
legislation to protect conventional and organic farming from GMO
contamination, will be left no room for manoeuvre,? said Marco Schlüter of
?The next European Commission will also be deprived the chance to take a
more considered view on the issue of ?co-existence? ? a problem that is
crucial for the future of non-GM farming in Europe.?
The Commission is also flying in the face of opposition from almost all the
interested parties, including the European Parliament, which passed a
resolution in December last year calling for the seeds labelling threshold
to be set at the reliable detection level of 0.1 per cent.
Stefano Masini from Coldiretti warned that the decision would hinder the
ongoing reform of the CAP: ?High quality agriculture, which is at the core
of the new Common Agricultural Policy, will be damaged if unlabelled
contamination of seeds is allowed.? The organisations also argue that
consumer antipathy towards GM products is still very high, despite the
lifting of the de facto moratorium on new GM approvals earlier this year ? a
change of stance by the Commission which was widely believed to be due to
international pressure from the US, where GM plantings are widespread.
?There is no need to rush through this decision. The vast majority of
conventional seeds on the EU market today, including imported seeds, are not
contaminated with GMOs. It would be irresponsible for the outgoing
Commission to leave us with a proposal that contradicts its promises to
guarantee ?co-existence? and freedom of choice for consumers,? said Donal
Walshe director of Eurocoop.
The groups claimed that allowing what they called ?contamination of seeds?
would make it increasingly hard for farmers to offer non-GM products to
consumers ? despite the overwhelming demand for GM-free food ? and would
increase the cost of co-existence (of GM and non-GM foods), costs which will
have to be shared throughout the food chain, ultimately resulting in more
The EU has the toughest rules on GM labelling in the world, with mandatory
labelling covering countless food products. The new rules, which came into
force in April, require all foods which contain or consist of GMOs or which
are produced from GMOs to be labelled regardless of the presence of GM
material in the final product.
Critics of the rules have already claimed that they do not make sense: "Two
different products will appear on the supermarket shelves - a product
derived from GMOs but with no GM material present will be labelled as such,
whereas a food product that has GM material present but which is under the
threshold will not require a label,? commented the CIAA, the voice of the
?600 billion European food industry, back in April.
But with around 300 genetically modified maize plants and more than 2,000 GM
oilseed rape plants now set to be allowed to grow on every hectare of
supposedly GM-free fields in Europe, ?without farmers even knowing about
it,?, according to the coalition, the confusion is only likely to increase,
with more food than ever before likely to be made from some form of GM crop
but with even less likelihood of any mention of genetic modification ever
being mentioned on the label.
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