Joint debate on
In a joint debate on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) two legislative proposals were debated. First Antonios TRAKATELLIS (EPP-ED, GR) introduced the Environment and Consumer Rights Committee's draft legislative resolution on the traceability of food and feed products produced from GMOs. He stated that for the improved functioning of the internal market as well as better information for consumers, harmonisation in this area was essential. At present, there is no legal obligation for countries outside the EU to identify how and if GMOs are used in production processes. There was, therefore, the possibility of fraud leading to a distortion in the market. He continued to say that international protocols on the subject did not ensure legal certainty. Mr Trakatellis said that there were two separate points. First, clear scientific analysis of products containing GMOs was needed and second, which was more difficult to trace, clear scientific analysis was needed for products deriving from GMOs - but which do not contain any GMO DNA protein in the final product.
He criticised the overall thrust of the Commission's proposal as unclear and not based on scientific evidence and said it was brought forward because of pressure to lift the de facto moratorium on GMOs in the EU and stated that amendments would be necessary to make it passable by Parliament.
Karin SCHEELE (PES, A) introduced the second debate on genetically modified food and feed. The key question in the Environment, Consumer Rights and Public Health Committee focussed on the threshold of GMOs allowed in certain products. She said that she supported the threshold for products containing GMOs being reduced from 1% to 0.5% and that it should be taken as an aggregate value for contamination in the ingredient concerned. This should be determined on the basis of the raw ingredient. She said therefore that the draft resolution removed the term: 'Adventitious or technically unavoidable presence of genetically modified material' measures from the authorisation section and reinserted them in the labelling section. Furthermore she continued to say that it was unacceptable that the provision should apply to GMOs which were not authorised in the Community. It was vital that this be avoided, otherwise all European Union bio-safety legislation would be undermined. She supported the Commission's proposal in general and defended stronger rights for consumers including clear choices when purchasing genetically modified food.
For the EPP-ED group, Renate SOMMER (EPP-ED, D) questioned the need for GMOs at all, but she contended that positive progress could be made in the food sector. She feared the introduction of GMO products would weaken the effectiveness of pesticides and herbicides. However, as far as labelling was concerned, her group favoured clear labelling of products that contained GMOs rather than 'GMO free' labelling, but that this labelling should apply to the end product rather than the ingredients in the product chain. She saw no need for GMO labelling to be applied to sugar. Moreover, her group did not support the reduction to a 0.5% threshold and said that this would act as an obstacle to further progress.
Torben LUND (PES, DK) for the PES group said that the EU needed clear rules on the traceability of GMOs in order to withdraw products when and if there is a health scare. Furthermore, consumers need to be able to make clear choices. His group supported the reduction to 0.5% threshold for the inclusion of GMOs in products and he said that the limit should be as low as possible. Labelling that required manufacturers to put 'GMO free' on the packet was insufficient, he preferred a system where manufacturers labelled their products 'this product contains GMOs.'
For the ELDR group, Dirk STERCKX (B) said that it was impossible to label every product that had come in to contact with GMOs. His group preferred a 'GMO free' label and supported a reduction in the threshold to 0.5%.
Jonas SJÖSTEDT (S) for the GUE/NGL group was of the opinion that bio-diversity should be the primary concern and that GMO technology was in the hands of a few international organisations who did not have the best interests of the consumer at heart . He stated that this was a very controversial technology and the precautionary principle should be applied. For the Greens / EFA group, Hiltrud BREYER's (D) primary concern was transparency for consumers. All products containing GMOs, including those in the manufacturing process should be labelled as such, she contended. She said that there should be no threshold at all on permissible amounts of GMOs. Mauro NOBILIA (I) for the UEN group, warned against potential WTO procedures if unfair practices were to be introduced. He claimed that it would be necessary to keep records on the transfer of GMOs through the food chain for at least 10 years. For the EDD group, Hans BLOKLAND (NL) touched on the ethical aspects of GMOs and questioned whether man had the right to manipulate nature in such a way. Biotechnology was not the answer to the North/South Divide but more should be done to support developing countries, he said.
David Robert BOWE (PES, Yorkshire and the Humber) welcomed the Commission proposal which would lift the de facto moratorium on GMOs in the EU. However, he questioned whether the proposal gave sufficient clarity to consumers with regard to the inclusion of GMOs in a given product. Labelling should make it clear whether products contained GMOs, the EU should tell consumers 100% of the truth and not just 99%, he stated.
Chris DAVIES (ELDR, North West) also wanted to put the burden of proof on the manufacturers of products that contained GMOs rather on non-GMO food. He saw no problem in the slow introduction of GMO products if that was what consumers desired.
Liam HYLAND (UEN, Leinster) said that the EU should move away from some of the more emotive issues surrounding GMOs. Consumers should have all the information available, but industry should not be overburdened and be put at a competitive disadvantage through scare mongering.
John PURVIS (EPP-ED, Scotland) said campaigns by groups such as Friends of the Earth were unhelpful and simply bamboozled the general public into believing that all GMOs were dangerous. He preferred a labelling system for consumers that would include 'GM free or virtually GM free' labels enabling consumers to make an informed choice this way.
Avril DOYLE (EPP-ED, Leinster) complained that the House was being asked to consider two different reports which only caused confusion. Nevertheless, on balance she wanted to emphasise that GMO technology offered an exciting future with benefits in the quality of life for many. The issue needed to be treated on a rational basis, she added, before expressing concern that present regulations lacked rigour and could lead to a conflict with the WTO. She made a special plea to ensure that the Whisky industry was not adversely effected. In recognising that fears were running high on this issue, Catherine STIHLER (PES, Scotland) emphasised the need for clear labelling and traceability as a way of reassuring consumers. As she put it, the jury was a present out on this issue.
3 July 2002
In approving these two proposals with amendments, Parliament is demanding more stringent rules on traceability and labelling including animal feed and food products, defining a threshold of contamination and on unapproved GMOs.
It was imperative that the objectives of GMO regulation were set out precisely and in detail to ensure that there were implementable rules not susceptible to deception and fraud and promote consumer protection without causing confusion and doubt. Rules should establish the same requirements both for producers within and outside the EU. When placing products produced from GMOs on the market, operators shall always ensure that either the words 'This product is produced from GMOs' or 'This product contains (ingredient) produced from GMOs' appear on a label. Parliament also took the view that reliable information should be submitted to the consumers about GMOs and their derivatives so that they can make an informed choice about a product.
Where the Commission had proposed that foods or feeds that are contaminated with GMOs up to 1% should not be labelled, Parliament demanded that this threshold be 0,5%, with the possibility of lower levels for minute traces in food or feed of genetically modified material authorised under EU legislation where the presence of such material was 'adventitious' or technically unavoidable. Advances in science and technology should allow appropriately lower thresholds to be established. The Commission is asked to draw up a list of criteria and take measures to ensure that the utmost care is taken to avoid contamination.
In her reply to the debate, Commissioner Margot WALLSTRÖM emphasised that the Commission's aim was to introduce comprehensive traceability and labelling for GM products, albeit with some exemptions, such as bulk shipments of grain containing 'adventitious or the technically unavoidable presence of GM material'. She could not therefore accept amendments challenging this principle and neither could Commissioner David BYRNE accept 'GMO free' labelling amendments as an alternative to mandatory labelling but he could agree to this kind of phraseology as an addition.