Food Law News - EU - 1997

3 December 1997: NOVEL FOODS - Labels for Genetically Modified Foods.


Commission Press Release (IP/97/1081), 3 December 1997

Labels for Genetically Modified Foods.

Foodstuffs containing genetically modified soya or maize would have to be labelled as such, under a proposal put forward yesterday by the Commission. If genetically modified ingredients cannot be ruled out because, for example, bulk supplies of soya or maize (some of which come from genetically modified plants) are not segregated labels will have to show that a product 'may contain' them. If the proposal is approved by the relevant committee, the Commission plans to bring it into force on 1 February 1998.

The following is the text of the Press Release:

The Commission proposes rules for the labelling of food made from genetically modified soya beans and maize

The European Commission today adopted a proposal on rules for the labelling of food intended for the final consumer produced from genetically modified soya beans and maize. Labelling will be compulsory if a food product contains DNA (desoxyribosenucleic acid). Food no longer containing modified DNA will also have to be labelled if it is possible to show the presence of genetically modified proteins. If a product contains ingredients or constituents made from genetically modified soya beans or maize, the words "produced from genetically modified soya or maize" must appear in the list of ingredients or be prominently displayed elsewhere on the labelling. If it is not sure whether a food contains substances made from genetically modified soya beans or maize, but this cannot be ruled out, the labelling must include the words "May contain ingredients produced from genetically modified soya/genetically modified maize". The Commission proposal will be discussed by the Standing Committee on Foodstuffs, which is made up of representatives of the Member States. If the Committee approves the proposal by a qualified majority, the Commission will bring the new regulations into force as from 1 February 1998. If there is no qualified majority in the Standing Committee, the Commission will submit the proposal to the Council of Ministers for a decision.

The most important feature of the proposal is the scientific criterion to be used to determine whether a novel food is equivalent to an existing one. Article 8 of the Novel Foods Regulation provides for compulsory labelling only if it is possible to prove, on the basis of scientific assessment, that the characteristics of a novel food are different from those of a conventional food. There are two ways of comparing the characteristics of these foods: comparison of the proteins or examination of their DNA sequences. In its proposal, the Commission has opted for the second method, which will enable a larger number of food products to be labelled. However, if the application of this method to certain foods does not enable differences to be detected, but comparison of the proteins does, the latter method will apply. The Commission therefore intends to guarantee that the labelling rules apply as widely as possible.

The proposal also provides that, for foods containing modified DNA or modified proteins, the words "Produced from genetically modified maize or genetically modified soya" must appear in the list of ingredients or be prominently displayed elsewhere on the labelling. If it is not sure whether the food contains substances from genetically modified plants, but this cannot be ruled out (e.g. because the maize or soya comes from the cargo of a ship that carried both modified and non-modified plants), the words "May contain ingredients produced from genetically modified soya/genetically modified maize" must appear on the labelling.

The Regulation leaves it to manufacturers to indicate voluntarily on the labelling that a food does not contain ingredients from genetically modified plants. Manufacturers will also be able to indicate voluntarily that a food contains substances from genetically modified plants if this cannot be demonstrated using the scientific method, but the manufacturer has been informed about the production method by his supplier.


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