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EU May Reconsider Labels for "Biotech" Meat, Eggs

Date: 06-Feb-07
Country: BELGIUM
Author: Jeremy Smith

The European Union has thresholds for how much GMO material may be present in foods and animal feed before being labelled as biotech. But those rules, which came into force in 2004, do not apply to meat and dairy products coming from a GMO-fed animal.

For green groups opposed to biotechnology, this exemption is a glaring hole in the EU's labyrinthine laws on GMO foods. For the biotech and animal feed industry, on the other hand, it would be unthinkable and unacceptable to change the status quo.

"There is a loophole in the legislation," said Marco Contiero, GMO campaigner at Greenpeace's European unit.

"Millions of tonnes of genetically modified crops are entering the European market every year and they are used in animal feed. But consumers are not informed," he said. "The right to know is a fundamental right of citizens in the EU."

Contiero was speaking while he handed over a petition to EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou that was signed by one million EU citizens demanding special labels for milk, meat, eggs and other products where the animals had eaten GMO feed.

Green groups have long complained about the issue, saying the key is what consumers know and want. Europe's shoppers are known for their wariness towards biotech foods, with opposition polled at slightly over 70 percent.


DISPROPORTIONATE?

In the past, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm that drafts new legislation for national governments to debate and endorse, has said there are no plans to tighten GMO labelling rules. And to do so "would be disproportionate".

That view, backed by the international biotech industry -- which insists that its products are perfectly safe in any case -- may now be changing, if Kyprianou's comments to Greenpeace while receiving the petition are anything to go by.

"A petition supported by one million citizens shows strong interest in this issue. We will look into the matter again," he said. "We will look into the science ... to see if what is asked of us would be justified."

The bulk of EU feed imports, mainly soybeans and maize, comes from countries like the United States where GMO crops are common through the crop supply chain. Around 90 percent of the EU's imports of GMO grain and oilseeds are used as animal feed.

More than 90 percent of the EU's imports of foods produced from GMO crops are soy and maize that ends up in animal feed.

Based on an assumption that the average feed composition for farm animals in the EU was up to 30 percent biotech, this meant that some 20 million tonnes of GMO material entered the bloc's food chain every year, Greenpeace said.

EU feed manufacturers say the constant need to import high-protein feed materials makes it impossible to supply non-GMO feed on a large scale.

However, there have been some tentative moves by EU meat producers towards voluntary schemes to guarantee non-GMO feed.

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