Amajority of European Union countries want to allow tiny traces of genetically modified (GM) material in food imports for human consumption, according to an internal EU briefing paper seen by Reuters Jan. 21.
In October, the European Commission proposed new rules that would allow up to 0.1 per cent of unapproved GM material in imports of animal feed to the bloc but excluded human food from the scope of the rule change.
“While the current draft is limited to feed, a majority of member states indicated that they would welcome an extension of the scope to food,” the EU briefing paper written for commission and government officials stated.
“In addition, there is a clear demand from operators of the food and feed chain to cover all these products,” commission experts said in the document.
The draft legislation, which must first be approved by EU states and lawmakers, is meant to avoid a repeat of disruption to EU animal feed supplies in 2009, when U.S. soy cargoes were blocked after traces of unapproved GM material were found.
Countries advocating the inclusion of human food in the new rules, such as major exporters the United States, Brazil and Argentina, say a feed-only approach is unworkable because global grain supplies cannot easily be separated into food and feed.
But even with a majority of EU states in favour of including food imports, the commission will not amend its proposal, one official told Reuters. That would force governments to either accept or reject the feed-only approach when they vote on the plans in Brussels on Feb. 8 and 9.
Once the current proposals are approved, the commission is ready to draft fresh legislation covering food imports in future if required, the commission official added.
The current draft legislation would only apply to GM products that have been approved in the exporting country and for which an EU marketing approval is pending.
But the Dutch government has said that the 0.1 per cent tolerance margin should also cover GMOs for which there is no EU approval pending, provided they have been assessed and cleared for sale by a non-EU country.
“The Netherlands’ preference is that the scope of the proposal should include all GMOs that are permitted in a third country outside the EU,” said a letter seen by Reuters from the country’s state secretary for agriculture to Dutch members of Parliament.
The move is backed by EU rice importers, who warn that new GM varieties being developed in India and China and not intended for export to Europe will not be submitted for EU marketing approval but that traces still will inevitably enter the global food chain.
“The reality is that countries around the world are pushing ahead with GM rice, and we are part of a global market and reliant on rice imports,” said Chris Downes of the Federation of European Rice Millers.
“This is not a problem for other countries, it is a problem for the EU, and the EU must be the one taking the initiative to find solutions. At the moment, this is unfortunately not happening,” he added.