Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Last updated: 19 January, 2016

GM Food Legislation in the European Union

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Note: This page considers the EU legislation on genetically modified (GM) foods. Originally the controls were based on those applied to 'novel foods'. However in 2003 separate EU legislation was adopted on GM food. For details of legislation on 'novel foods', see the other page: Novel Food Legislation in the EU. The following diagram illustrates the development of both the GM controls and those for 'novel foods':

For a larger version of this figure, see: Diagram: GM and Novel Foods

Initial controls for the approval and use of genetically modified materials in agricuture were established by Directive 90/220 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms. These were subsequently updated and replaced by Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Directive 90/220/EEC.

The use of GM material for food was initially covered by Regulation 258/97 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning novel foods and novel food ingredients which came into effect on the 15 May 1997 - foods used before this date would not be considered 'novel'. This contained provisions for the approval of GM material as food and for the possible requirement for labelling. However, before May 1997 two GM products (one soya and one maize) had been approved for use under Directive 90/220 and could not therefore be subject to the rquirements of Regulation 258/97 (since, by definition, they could not be considered 'novel'). Special controls were therefore adopted by Regulation 1813/97 to impose the same requirements for labelling on these two GM products as would have been required under the novel food controls. Howver as imports were just beginning to arrive, consumer concerns increased and additional special labelling rules were introduced, first by Regulation 1139/98 and then by Regulation 49/2000.

Major changes were introduced in 2003 with the adoption of specific controls applying to both food and feed - Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 on genetically modified food and feed. This removed GM food from the definition of 'novel food' and contained updated procedures for the approval of GM food and for the labelling of products derived from GM material.

Approval of GM material for food use has been controversial and Member States are divided on whether they should be used for food. Although the European Food Safety Authority has generally issued positive opinions on their safety (itself also controversial), Member States have subsequently failed to agree and adopt the necessary legal documents. Regulation 1829/2003 (and related procedural regulations) allows the Commission to adopt the approval if Member States fail to reach agreement within specified time limits and this has been the route for the adoption of most approvals. Similar issues have arisen under Directive 2001/18 but a recent amendment (by Directive 2015/412) allows Member States to restrict use on their territory. To try and resolve the problem for food and feed, the Commission has proposed (in COM(2015)177) a similar amendment to Regulation 1829/2003 allowing for Member States to prohibit (under specified conditions) the use of approved GM foods in their territory. This is currently under discussion.

For the Commission's page on this topic, go to:

EU Legislation




Consolidated Texts:


Proposed Amenedment to Regulation 1829/2003

For the Commission's Proposal, see:

For related News Items, see:

This page was first provided on 14 January 2016
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