Food Law News - UK - 1998
21 May 1998: NOVEL FOODS - Consumer Choice Wins On Genetically Modified Foods
MAFF News Release (211/98), 21 May 1998
Consumer Choice Wins On Genetically Modified Foods
All food products containing genetically modified (GM) soya and maize are to be clearly labelled, following a new agreement between European member states.
Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham welcomed the move. The UK Government has campaigned hard in Europe to secure better labelling of GM foods. Clear information on the label will give consumers the right to choose whether or not they buy those products. The decision, taken by representatives from all Member States in Brussels yesterday, will make GM labelling compulsory for all European food manufacturers. The move sets a precedent for the labelling of all GM foods, not only soya and maize, and is expected to be formally ratified at the Agriculture Council on Monday 25 May 1998.
Dr Cunningham said:
"Consumers are our number one priority. This change to European labelling rules will give consumers the ability to choose whether they eat genetically modified foods or not. Britain has campaigned hard to ensure labelling is meaningful and practical. Yesterday's agreement is a triumph for consumer rights to better information. Genetic modification could offer cheaper, more nutritious foods for consumers. But, we, as the Government, must make sure that every new crop and the foods produced from them are carefully vetted before being approved for use. We are also looking at ways of further strengthening our monitoring and testing procedures to make sure these crops remain harmless to human beings, wildlife and the environment."
There is a comprehensive set of controls in place regulating the cultivation and use of genetically modified crops across Europe. In Britain, anyone wishing to get authorisation to grow and market GM crops in the UK would have to:
- Notify the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of their intention to undertake experimental work in the laboratory, if this was the first time the premises were to be used for such a purpose, and produce a prior risk assessment of any risks to the environment of human health which could possibly arise.
- The HSE would consult the Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification (ACGM) when it considers it needs further advice.
- A consent from the Secretary of State for the Environment would be needed before the plant breeders could start growing crops outside in field plots, perhaps to see how well the new strain performed.
- To get this consent, they would have to supply a detailed application and environmental risk assessment to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR).
- The DETR would be advised by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE).
- If the field trials were successful, the crop could be considered for food safety purposes under the EC Novel Foods Regulation by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP).
- Before deciding whether the new crop is acceptable for human consumption, the ACNFP may ask for additional advice from the Food Advisory Committee (FAC), Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), and the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA).
- In addition, a marketing consent is also required before the crop can be grown commercially in Europe. This requires submission of an additional detailed application and environmental risk assessment to DETR for consideration by ACRE.
- Once these committees agree that the crop is safe, their assessment would be passed to other European member states for consideration. If no objections are raised, then the product could be marketed provided it was labelled in accordance with EU rules.
The News Release includes the following additional notes:
- Agreement on a European Community Regulation which sets detailed rules for the labelling of GM soya and maize was reached at COREPER yesterday and will be ratified at the Agriculture Council on Monday.
- The regulation requires all foods containing ingredients produced from Monsanto's GM soya and Novartis' GM maize to be labelled except when neither protein nor DNA resulting from genetic modification is present. In these cases, the food or ingredients would be considered equivalent to normal foods and would not need to be labelled.
- The regulation provides for the development of a list of ingredients, containing neither novel DNA nor protein, that would not need to be labelled.
- The European Commission is to study the question of a de minimis threshold for the presence of DNA or protein resulting from genetic modification.
- Declarations should appear in the ingredients listing or, where there is no ingredients list, should be on the labelling of the product.
- The Regulations will not apply to products manufactured or imported into the EC before the Regulations come into force.
- There will be a three month period to allow industry to ensure that any products not yet labelled comply with the regulation.
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