Europe's bureaucrats have cleared strict new rules on GM foods in Europe, paving the way for an end to the European-wide ban on GM foods.
The green light from Strasbourg heralds in some of the toughest laws on genetically modified foods in the world. So tough that new GM foods could be sold in Europe for the first time in five years, but only if clearly labelled.
The MEPs agreed on a common position for the GM threshold, setting the limit of 0.9 per cent above which food containing GMO material whose presence is 'adventitious or technically unavoidable' would have to be labelled 'This product is produced from GMOs' (genetically modified organisms). Animal feed containing more than 0.9 per cent genetically modified content must also be labelled. Meat or dairy products from animals fed GM feed do not have be labelled.
Environmental groups in Europe had called for zero presence and the original proposal from the European Commission pitched the threshold at 0.5 per cent. The threshold was later amended to a proposed 0.9 per cent.
During the parliamentary debate, MEP Patricia McKenna from the Greens/EFA party argued that the whole GMO argument was driven by the 'profit and greed' of multinationals and that she would only be content with a zero level.
But environmental groups in Europe largely welcomed the new legislation, believing that the new rules provide the consumer with greater power. Although for some, there are still "gaping holes in the legislation, particularly over liability", said GMO campaigner for Friends of the Earth Geert Ritsema.
David Robert Bowe, MEP, highlighted the short-fallings of the new labelling regime saying "one might eat a pizza with a salami sausage, but not all the ingredients making up the salami sausage would be included on the packet."
Added to this is a stipulation in the new rules that any product derived from GM ingredients but whose presence is undetectable - such as cooking oil - should still be labelled as genetically modified.
The food industry has previously voiced its concerns over this move, which it believes will not only encourage a 'paper trail' but could also lead to abuse of the system.
The CIAA remains deeply concerned by the practical difficulties the implementation of this legislation will create for operators and for enforcement authorities, said the European food and drink industry this week.
The group re-iterated its belief that in the absence of DNA/modified protein in the final product, the implementation of the new rules will have to be based on paper trails and not on analytical tests, as is the situation today. The CIAA fears that this system will lead to unfair competition and fraud while causing major confusion for consumers.
On the one hand certain food ingredients containing GM-material below a threshold for adventitious presence will not have to be labelled. On the other hand, GM-derived products which do not contain GM-material will have to be labelled, concluded the CIAA.
But for Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, the new EU model of labelling and traceability were examples of legislation that "could be defended to all, including the US".
Tensions between Europe and the US on GMOs have been mounting over the past few weeks with the US claiming that the self-imposed GM moratorium was an unfair trade barrier. Last month the US filed a suit with the World Trade Organisation arguing for the moratorium to be lifted. Yesterday's decision will allow Europe to lift the ban.
David Byrne, Europe's Consumer Affairs Commissioner told the European Parliament: "We have now come to the stage were we must lift the de facto moratorium."
Pro-GM biotech trade group EuropaBio said this week that new case studies from the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) show that crops developed through biotechnology can help farmers reap an additional 7.8 billion kilograms of food, improve farm income by over € 1 billion, and provide for a more efficient use of pesticides.