EP Daily News, 1 July 2003
Report on the Council common position for adopting a European Parliament
and Council regulation on genetically modified food and feed
Report on the Council common position for adopting a European Parliament and Council regulation on traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms and the traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms and amending Directive 2001/18/EC
Opening the joint debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Karin SCHEELE (PES, A) stressed that it would be important for the Member States to manage "co-existence" i.e. the growth of GM and non-GM crops. The directive, she said, would allow Member States to take steps to protect conventional non-GM and organic crops from contamination by imposing restrictions on the growing of GM crops. She said it was also important for consumers to have a well-informed choices on the kind of products that they may choose to buy.
On limit values, she said that the Council common position had set a limit of 0.9% above which food containing GMO material whose presence is adventitious or technically unavoidable (accidental) would have to be labelled accordingly. However, Mrs Scheele pointed out that the Environment Committee had reinstated 0.5% or above as the figure that would trigger the necessity of requiring GM labelling and pointed that this was the figure set out in Parliament's first reading.
It was then the turn of Antonios TRAKATELLIS (EPP-ED, GR) to report on a related piece of legislation concerning the traceability and labelling of GMOs. He emphasised the fact that information indicating whether or not a product contained GMOs should be made clear on the label. With regard to traceability, he emphasised the point that the new legislation updated existing rules and that Council's common position is now supported by the Commission. Another point to be considered was the question of the separation of crops where the Commission would be required to define rules governing the co-existence between normal and GMO crops. It would, he said, be useful to set up a register containing the results of these findings and also to introduce provisions for monitoring and spot checks. The aim, as he put it, was to enable the consumer to make an informed choice while, at the same time, put in place a system of legislation which would avoid a trade conflict with countries such as the USA, Canada and Egypt.
For the Commission, David BYRNE recognised the complex arguments being put forward but emphasised that the aim of the Commission's approach was to introduce a high level of protection. Authorisation for the use of GMOs in animal feed could be given for a period of 10 years. In addition, he underlined the fact that animal feed containing GMOs would have to be labelled. This he said would increase legal certainty and be of benefit to traders and other businesses in the market. He felt the Council's common position reached in March represented a balanced approach and should be supported.
As to the amendments now being put forward by the committee, he could accept the last minute compromises on the understanding that the others would be rejected.
Commissioner Margot WALLSTRÖM, responsible for the Environment, began by stressing that the issues relating to GMOs were more political than technical. She also underlined the importance of consumers being fully informed and this would be done through clear labelling. The Commissioner noted that differences of opinion between the Member States had narrowed, but stated that the most controversial issue remained that of co-existence. She said the Commission would soon be publishing new guidelines on co-existence of GM and non-GM crops. As regards thresholds, she said that the figures agreed in the common position should be supported. She hoped that the vote on the two reports would allow compromise with the Member States and recalled that the main issues were security and freedom of choice for the consumer.
Renate SOMMER (D), for the EPP-ED group, regretted the self-imposed moratorium on GM products. She said that consumers were not benefiting from new technologies already available on the market. She also said that consumers lacked information and they would only gain knowledge on choices available after the directives were adopted. With regard to thresholds, she agreed with the common position values which outline that the directive should not apply to foods containing material produced from GMOs in a proportion no higher than 0.9% of the food ingredients, provided that this presence is adventitious or technically unavoidable.
For the PES group, Torben LUND (DK) said that the thresholds for accidental contamination in the common position were too high. He pointed out that thresholds for unauthorised GMOs and GM ingredients did not exist under US law. He also said that if the contamination was accidental, then, by definition, the product would not be labelled. He also called for a central database on GM crops particularly with regard to traceability.
For the Liberals, Chris DAVIES (North West) confessed to being a "sceptic" rather than an outright opponent of GMOs. He recognised that the use of these new substances could bring about a reduction in pesticides and that, at present, there was not a proven health risk. On the other hand, it was difficult to see where there could be outright gains in Europe. He recognised, however, fears over threats to the environment and the need to avoid a trade war. He accepted the need for guidelines to be laid down on the use of GMOS and the importance of preventing cross-contamination. On the whole, therefore, he felt the pace of developments was proceeding too fast and that provision should be made for an adjustment in approach according to new developments. In other words, a delay in taking a final decision would be no bad thing.
Another view was expressed by Jonas SJÖSTEDT (S), speaking for the GUE/NGL, who saw support for GMOs as being led by big business. It was important to introduce strict labelling and traceability rules in order to ensure consumer choice. He felt that the compromise agreement was a step in the right direction but that the case had not been made to lift the present moratorium.
Hiltrud BREYER (D), speaking for the Greens, expressed concern that the wording of the legislation could allow unlabelled GMOs to be used for example in the production of sugar and olive oil. She advocated a process based on the "polluter pays" principle and pointed out that some 90% of consumers would in fact reject GMOs. She also felt there was a need to clarify the rules with regard to cross-contamination.
Jill EVANS (Greens/EFA, Wales) underlined the importance of the directives as they touched on the areas of human and animal health as well as the environment. She stated that 93% of consumers had stated that they wanted a choice as to whether to buy GM products or not. However, Mrs Evans pointed out that this would not be a complete choice since accidental contamination of 0.9 % would not be included within the scope of the directive. Mrs Evans did recognise the fact that these thresholds could be altered when better detection technologies became available. In Wales, she said the issue of co-existence was particularly sensitive and the Welsh Assembly had tried to impose strict regulations on separating GM and non-GM products, but the Commission had stated that in the long-term these would not be viable.
Caroline JACKSON (EPP-ED, South West), the Chair of the Environment Committee, stated that the development of GM products was a very useful development and would help to ensure better food supplies and reduce the use of environmentally damaging pesticides and herbicides. As far as the thresholds for labelling were concerned, Mrs Jackson stated that the amounts were very low and almost undetectable. Mrs Jackson also wanted to know what action the Commission would take once these directives were adopted, if a particular country decided to impose a new moratorium on GM foods.
For Patricia McKENNA (Greens/EFA, Dublin) the whole GMO argument was driven by the "profit and greed" of multinationals. There was no evidence that consumers wanted GMO foods and therefore they should not be forced to accept it, she argued. As to the coexistence arguments, she felt that contamination was inevitable. The multinationals must be held responsible and accept the "polluter pays" principle. As to the thresholds, she said she would only be content with a zero level.
David Robert BOWE (PES, Yorkshire and the Humber) stressed that GM technology should primarily benefit consumers. He said the main objective of the proposed legislation was to ensure genuine choice. He did, however, recognise the imperfections in the labelling regime saying "one might eat a pizza with a salami sausage, but not all the ingredients making up the salami sausage would be included on the packet". He said that the consumers deserved the best deal that science could offer and it was impossible to define every ingredient in every product.
Caroline LUCAS (Greens/EFA, South East) was another speaker who opposed the lifting of the moratorium. Labelling and traceability rules would not be sufficient to give the green light to widespread use of GMOs, she argued, pointing out that she felt contamination was inevitable. Furthermore, with increased licensing, there was a risk that normal food would be forced off the market. EU guidelines were not sufficient, she felt, adding that there was a need to improve the consultation system as far as the UK was concerned.
Replying to the debate, Commissioner Byrne made the case that it was now possible to achieve a balanced approach to take account of the interests of both sides The new legislation, he argued, by introducing pre-market authorisation, labelling and traceability would impose the most stringent conditions possible. As to those who opposed GMOs, he said they would never be satisfied. In addition, the scientific evidence at present indicated that GM foods were as safe as conventional foods and this being the situation, he felt there could be no justification for continuing the moratorium. And he rejected any charges that he was giving way to pressures in the face of the WTO. As an extra safeguard, there would be a two-year period which would allow a review of the new regulations.
Commissioner Margot WALLSTRÖM, in her reply to the debate, stated that it was not a question of whether to "say yes or no to GM foods", as the EU had gone beyond this. She pointed out that in fact the EU imported 35 million tonnes of soya per year. She defended the Commission's proposals on traceability and labelling and stated that risk assessment was always central in all proposed legislation. The Commissioner recognised the complexity of the debate, but said that the EU model of labelling and traceability were examples of legislation that could be defended to all, including the US. The Commissioner also said that it was time for the EU to enact and enforce its legislation which, as a consequence, would end the de facto moratorium on GM products within the EU.