The European Parliament is preparing itself for a food fight today over Commission proposals that would mean that any food containing a genetically modified ingredient would have to be labelled.
The European Parliament is deeply divided over rules for GM food that would force all products containing more than 0.5 per cent of GM organisms (GMOs) to be labelled.
In the UK, a move by Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government in which British MEPs were sent a briefing note urging them to vote against it, arguing that the issue was low on the list of consumer priorities, provoked criticisms from consumer groups.
In a joint open letter to The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, UK consumer groups clearly stated their position.
"The European proposals - as opposed to those of the Food Standards Authority (FSA) - reflect the view widely held in the UK and the rest of the EU that all GM food should be clearly and honestly labelled.
Regardless of the views of the FSA, or the misplaced enthusiasms of the UK government, MEPs and national governments must continue to protect the interests of their electorates by insisting on adequate labelling of GM products. Support for the EU Commission's traceability and labelling regime is a key step in the right direction."
The letter condemned the FSA recommendations to the government on the subject of the European Commission's traceability and labelling proposals and maintained consumers would be "left in the dark over the use of GM ingredients."
The division between government and consumer associations in the UK is a reflection of the wider picture. In Europe and the US, environmentalists and consumer groups are seeking a clampdown while food processors, biotechnology companies and certain governments, namely the US and UK, are lobbying against the measure. Whatever the outcome of the vote on Wednesday, it is clear that the dispute between environmentalists and business interests will deepen.
In the eyes of the US, where concerns over GM foods are less prevalent than in Europe, the European Union already has a tough labelling rule, requiring food containing more than 1 per cent of a genetically modified ingredient to have a label informing consumers about the genetically modified content.
The European Consumers' Organisation, Europe's main consumer lobby group, called on the Parliament to implement 'proper labelling' to assure consumer confidence in the food supply. Environmentalist group Friends of the Earth urged members of the EU assembly to confirm the committee vote.
Lobbyists from Unilever, Nestle, Kraft Foods and other food processors say labels would stigmatise their products and confuse consumers, leading to boycotts or negative publicity campaigns from environmental activists.
The US government has threatened to contest any restrictive new EU rules in the World Trade Organisation as a technical barrier to trade.
Whatever the outcome of the debate on Wednesday, one thing is certain - the GM debate is far from over.