Jul 1 2003

The UK Government is continuing to lobby against tough new EU laws on GM food and crops. A briefing document, obtained by Friends of the Earth [1], has been sent to all UK MEPs urging them to support the Government's opposition to tighter rules in a key European Parliament vote in Strasbourg tomorrow (Wednesday) [2]. The Government also opposes proposals for legislation to deal with the problems of coexistence between GM and non-GM crops.

The European Parliament vote is expected to back tougher GM labelling. The current Directive requires food containing an ingredient with at least one per cent of GM DNA to be labelled. The new proposals would strengthen this legislation by:

  • increasing its scope to include derivatives from GM crops (such as oils which don't contain DNA). This would be done through a comprehensive `traceability regime' which would ensure that food ingredients can be tracked so that is known whether or not they come from GM crops.

  • extending the Directive to include animal feed. This would allow food manufacturers to ensure that animal products have not been fed on a GM diet.

  • reducing the GM labelling threshold from 1 per cent to 0.9 per cent. Friends of the Earth campaigned for much stricter levels. Supermarkets and food manufacturers can detect GM material at 0.1 per cent and currently operate to this threshold.

MEPs will also vote on a proposal tackling the "co-existence" between GM and non GM crops. If passed the Directive would allow Member States to take steps to protect conventional non-GM and organic crops from GM contamination, by imposing restrictions on the growing of GM crops [3].

Government lobbying

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Food Standards Agency have sent a joint `briefing' to UK MEPs opposing some of the proposals which would strengthen consumer and environmental protection from GM food and crops. In its briefing it says that proposals to legislate on coexistence are "unwelcome". "The UK Government does not welcome this approach as a practical and timely solution to this issue" it says, adding that "the development of guidelines would not be unwelcome".

On lowering the GM threshold (the point at which GM labelling would be compulsory), the briefing says "the UK Government does not welcome these amendments as the lower the threshold, the more difficult it would become to make the regulation practically effective to the benefit of genuine consumer choice. A 1% threshold reflects the capability of current detection methods, and the ability of the supply chain to deliver." However, most supermarkets and food manufacturers already have systems in place that can detect GM material at much lower levels to a 0.1% limit of detection. The Government's own Central Science Laboratory has confirmed that this level of detection is accurate.

Last month media reports revealed that Ministers wanted to "kill off plans by Brussels to bring in a comprehensive regime for labelling genetically modified foods" because the Government feared "negative fallout from Washington". [4].

Opinion polls show strong opposition to GM foods - 70% of the European public don't want GM food and 94% want to be able to choose whether or not they eat it (Eurobarometer 2001).

Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Pete Riley said:

"Once again the UK Government is opposing moves that would help protect our food from GM contamination and give consumers more information to help them avoid GM food. So much for being neutral on this issue.

"The public has a fundamental right to eat GM-free food but we need legislation to ensure that this happens. European politicians must take action to enable consumers to say no to GM."


1. Attached or available from Friends of the Earth.

2. MEPs will vote between 1pm and 2pm (local time) on Wednesday. If MEPs vote for tougher GM rules it will then go to the Council of EU Agricultural Ministers, probably in July. If the Council agrees (which is almost certain), the new proposals could be operational in the autumn of 2003.

3. The European Commission has so far refused to make EU-wide legislation on coexistence - the compatibility of growing GM crops alongside conventional and organic crops. Instead they have handed the issue over to Member States without giving them the legal powers to take any measures. MEPs will vote on giving Member States such powers.

4. Sunday Times 1 June 2003



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