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Testing of honey takes on new momentum in fallout from GM ruling

By Jane Byrne , 31-Oct-2011
Last updated on 02-Nov-2011 at 10:14 GMT

Work is under way by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre to identify appropriate sampling and testing methods for the presence of pollen in honey.

The research follows the European Court of Justice’s recent ruling on pollen and its implications for the enforcement of legislation on GM food.

Furthermore, following on a from a meeting last week of Brussels officials, the Commission now regards pollen as both a component and ingredient of honey, and said it needs to be declared on labels, whether or not it has been derived from a GM source.

September saw the ECJ, the highest court in the bloc, decree that honey containing traces of pollen from genetically modified (GM) plants must receive prior authorisation before it can be sold as food in the EU.

Prior to the ECJ’s decision, foodstuffs containing honey were not required to declare the presence of pollen on their labels.

The Commission’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFAH) met last week to discuss the implication of the ECJ ruling, with committee member, the UK’s Food Standards Agency, revealing the outcome of those discussions to FoodNavigator.com

According to the FSA, the SCOFAH group said that honey should not contain pollen from GM sources, unless the pollen has the appropriate authorisation for food use in the EU.

The committee members also decided that if some or all of the pollen is from an approved GM source and if the total pollen content exceeds the 0.9% threshold allowed for adventitious presence, it should also be labelled accordingly.

The FSA said it will discuss the issue further with the Commission on 14 November.

Both the Commission and FSA need to fully understand the practical implications of the ECJ ruling before deciding what steps need to be taken. In the meantime, the FSA will continue to consult with relevant groups to minimise the potential impact on the supply of safe and properly labelled honey,” said the agency.

Analysts claim the verdict could have a detrimental impact on European imports of honey from countries such as Argentina where GM crops are widely grown.

A huge percentage of honey used in the Europe food sector, whether sold directly or used in products such as breakfast cereals or bars, is sourced from outside the bloc on price grounds.

Meanwhile, there are no current safety concerns related to pollen from the strain of genetically modified corn MON810 when used in food, said Europe’s food watchdog.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last week said that pollen from the GM maize is as safe as the corn itself.

The Parma-based body’s GMO panel considered the safety of maize MON810 pollen both in food, for example when present in honey, and as food, when pollen is consumed directly.

It had previously stated that MON810 is safe and said it was “unlikely that pollen derived from MON810 would raise specific concerns as a result of the genetic modification”.

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