Food Law News - EU - 2002

Council Memo (MEMO/02/216), 16 October 2002

GM FOOD - Preparation of the Environment Council - Proposed Regulations and the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety

GM Food and Feed

The Council will hold a policy debate on the Commission's Proposal for a Regulation concerning the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the traceability of food and feed products produced from GMOs and amending Directive 2001/18. This proposal is strictly linked to the Proposal on GMO food and feed with regard to the issue of thresholds for acceptance of traces of GMO in non-GM products. It is necessary to establish correct links between the two proposals in order to maintain a consistent approach across the entire regulatory framework on GMOs.

The Proposal on GMO food and feed was discussed at the Agriculture Council on Monday 14 October. Political agreement on this Proposal was not reached at the Agriculture Council and, given the links, political agreement on the traceability and labelling Proposal will subsequently not be possible at the Environment Council. Political agreement on both Proposals will now be deferred to the next Environment Council and Agriculture Council respectively. The Commission is hopeful that progress can be made on outstanding issues regarding, notably, the transmission of information on GMO content in products; the scope of the Directive and the issue of thresholds for GMO traces in non-GMO products.

The Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety

Following the ratification by the EU of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety at the June Council, Commissioner Wallström now expects ministers to reach a common position on the Commission's proposal for implementing the provisions of the Protocol into EU law. This proposal complements existing EU legislation on GMOs with regard to exports of GMOs. The Cartagena Protocol is an international agreement designed to ensure safe handling, use and trans-boundary movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

There are a number of outstanding issues that will be discussed at Council. These refer to issues of explicit consent (which includes the question of receiving prior consent from the importing country before the transboundary movement of GMOs), limiting the exporting of genetically modified food and feed products to only those that have already been approved by the EU, as well as the way in which to identify individual GMOs.

On the question of explicit consent, the Commission recommends to maintain the current Protocol position and wishes to see the issue further addressed at international level.

As far as the export of EU-approved genetically modified food and feed products is concerned, the Commission strongly recommends that the provisions of Article 12 of Regulation 178, which concerns the general principles of food law, be strictly adhered to. In short, exports of GM food that has not been approved in Europe is not forbidden as such but subject to stringent requirements. This means such products can only be exported to a third country if they do no present a risk to health and if the country in question has given its express agreement for acceptance. The reasons why these products have not been placed on the market in the EU would also have to be given.

Finally, with regard to the identification requirements for GMOs, the Commission wants to maintain coherence with the ongoing discussions on labelling and traceability. This issue is common to both proposals and remains outstanding. It is, therefore, essential that a coherent solution be found to ensure consistency between the two pieces of legislation. Certain information requirements remain to be determined under the Protocol itself and it is, therefore, not appropriate to lay down rigid provisions in the implementing legislation at this stage. The Commission considers it far more appropriate to determine the necessary provisions in the proposal on traceability and labelling, where discussions are more advanced. An appropriate link to these future provisions in the proposal implementing the Biosafety Protocol would provide the necessary consistency and the most coherent approach.

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