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Planet Ark World Environment News EU biotech label laws to come into force

Date: 20-Apr-04
Country: BELGIUM
Author: Aine Gallagher

The labeling regulations, in force from April 18, are part of efforts by the European Commission to provide consumers with choice and reassurance as it seeks to end a ban on new biotech products imposed by a group of EU states five years ago.

The Commission is acting amid lobbying from the biotech and food industry as well as pressure from a suit brought to the World Trade Organization (WTO) by the United States, whose farmers say they are losing money due to the EU's GM ban.

But many consumers, environmental groups and several EU governments remain resistant to biotech foods.

"There will be no sea change (among member states) in the immediate future," said an EU diplomat. "It will be felt in the medium to long term."

All food products and animal feed containing more than 0.9 percent of GMOs will have to be labeled from April 18.

Currently, all food containing more than one percent of GMOs has to be labeled, but not if the food is so processed that it is impossible to detect GMOs in the final product.

Animal fodder is excluded from any labeling at present.

Another innovation in the law is that all GMOs will have be traced through the food processing chain, a key food safety demand of GM-sceptic states at the origin of the moratorium.

However, nobody is expecting a flood of new GM products on shop shelves when 70.9 percent of European shoppers are hostile to biotech food, according to a Commission survey.

The EU food and drink lobby (CIAA) has prepared a guide for companies on how to label products under the new rules, for example a biscuit containing soya flour derived from GM-soya must be labeled "contains soya flour from genetically modified soya."

The EU is split over authorizing imports of a new type of genetically modified sweetcorn, BT-11 maize made by Syngenta (SYNN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research) , to be sold in tins on supermarket shelves, a test case for the ban which is under international attack.

In Washington, a leading U.S. senator condemned the new rules, which he said could make it even more difficult for the United States to sell food products in Europe.

"They're yet another example of the official stigmatization of agricultural biotech products by the European Union," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley said.

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