A question of labelling

The European Commission decides on the labelling of genetically modified food

Published: Tuesday 30 June 1998

Due to pressure from the European Union (EU) countries, the European Commission has said that genetically modified food will only have to be labelled when its presence is proven. The EU dropped its requirement that foods should carry "may contain" labels when it is uncertain if they include genetically modified orga-nisms (GMO's).

The Commission has the autho-rity to impose its own system it. But it would have had to face opposition from all EU countries except Denmark, Sweden and Italy and from the European parliament. Its concession cleared the way for countries to adopt final proposals on the labelling of genetically modified maize and soya soon. The proposals are expec-ted to set a precedent for other so called "novel foods" such as those with modified molecular structure.

The compromise package is viewed with suspicion in the US - where most of the genetically modified maize and soya originates - even after the changes. It is strongly opposed by Beuc, an organisation representing European consumer groups and by Greenpeace.

Greenpeace and some US companies have welcomed the shelving of the "may contain" labels. At the same time they are not happy with the testing methods proposed by the Commis-sion and accepted by the EU nations. Under the EU's procedures, foods would be tested for the presence of DNA or protein resulting from genetic modification to find if it remained equivalent to an existing food in composition and nutritional value. Labelling would be required if the tests showed differently. Greenpeace has said that the EU's compromise proposals would mean more than 90 per cent of products containing GMO's would not need to carry labels.

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