Food Law News - EU - 1998

5 January 1998: NOVEL FOODS - Proposed European Commission Regulation on Labelling of GM Soya and Maize

MAFF Letter, 5 January 1998

Proposed European Commission Regulation on Labelling of GM Soya and Maize

The Ministry letter circulates a copy of the proposed Commission regulation ‘concerning the compulsory indication on the labelling of certain foodstuffs produced from genetically modified organisms of particulars other than those provided for in Directive 79/112/EEC’ together with a copy of the Commission’s Explanatory memorandum.

In brief, the Commission proposed Regulation (III/5565/97 - Rev 3) provides detailed rules for the labelling of food ingredients obtained from GM soya and maize and would require labelling where:

Voluntary labelling indicating the absence of GM material is also permitted.

The text of the proposed regulations was discussed by member states at a meeting on the 18 December and, with the exception of Austria, Germany, Denmark and Sweden there was little support for the text as currently drafted. Several Member States, while accepting the need for urgent agreement on labelling of GM soya and maize, pressed for a number of issues to be discussed further before the draft was finalised. These included the need for labelling to be based on the presence of protein rather than DNA in recognition of the availability of more reliable detection methods, the possible need for a threshold of detection, allowance of the use of the term ‘does contain’ without the need for detailed tests to be carried out where there are reasonable grounds for believing that the product is likely to contain GM material, and the introduction of a transition period to allow for the necessary steps to be taken to change existing food labels.

The Commission made clear its intention to put the text unamended to a vote of the Standing Committee on Foodstuffs at its next meeting, which is likely to be on January 15. Based on the reaction from Member States at the preliminary discussion of this document, it is probable that the regulation will fail to secure a qualified majority. If this is the case the Commission may well, given its current position, pass the unmodified test to the Internal Market Council in March.

The Ministry state that in their view the Commission shows no sign of being prepared to modify its proposal which it points out has been accepted by the College of Commissioners, and unless the Council agrees to amend the proposal, the only means of securing changes under the voting procedure allowed in this case (it cannot reject it), it will almost certainly be adopted unchanged within the next few months. Those companies selling foods containing soya or maize ingredients that are likely to be covered by this regulation, but which have not yet made arrangements to change their labels to declare the presence of GM material, may therefore wish to consider doing so now given the short transition period envisaged by the Commission.

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