German GM bill causes concern

Related tags Genetically modified food Genetic engineering Genetically modified organism

The adoption of a bill in Germany last week enforcing European regulations on genetically modified
food and feed has done little to calm unease among many consumers.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) says it has received a dramatic increase in inquiries about the safety of genetically modified food and the possible effects on health after consuming products of this kind.

The BfR has now spoken out in defence of the bill. "The bill does not in any way change the safety of genetically modified food,"​ said BfR president Andreas Hensel. "In future, too, it will only be granted authorisation if it has successfully completed comprehensive safety tests."

The BfR argues that the rules for the labelling of food and food additives containing genetically modified ingredients have been tightened. The new laws stipulate that all genetically modified foods must be labelled irrespective of whether the use of genetic engineering can be proven or not.

Improved labelling, says the BfR​, will make it easier for consumers to make an informed decision for or against genetic engineering.

The goal of the new legal provisions is to make authorisation procedures for novel food and food additives simpler and more transparent, to harmonise safety tests and to lay down more comprehensive labelling provisions. A new element is the labelling obligation for genetically modified feed. Food produced from animals not reared on genetically modified feed is exempt from the labelling obligation.

But products with technically unavoidable traces of genetically modified organisms, which reached the product during cultivation, transport or processing, are exempt from the labelling obligation.

This is a major concern for environmental groups. "The fact is that oil seed rape, or canola as it is called in North America, can be blown around,"​ said Pete Riley, GM campaigner for UK pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE). "Pollen can travel several kilometres."

This means that genetically modified seeds are easily blown onto non-GM farmland. Riley claims that traces of GM crops, or 'volunteer' crops as they are called, are finding their way into our food chain whether we like it or not.

So despite what the BfR might say, the bill passed in Germany means that consumers have less choice over GM than ever before. "European farmers will find that meeting the demand for GM-free food stuffs will become more difficult,"​ he said.

The BfR is doing all it can to ease public fears. "Any provision is only ever as good as monitoring of compliance,"​ said the BfR. "That's why methods are needed to reliably prove genetic modifications. In the past BfR has already taken the lead in developing methods of this kind in Germany and also in Europe and made them available as official methods. It will continue this work."

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