From 18 April all ingredients that contain or consist of genetically modified organisms, or contain ingredients produced from GMOs, must be labelled and traceable - a system that will lean heavily on traceability. The rules also set up a centralised procedure to consider applications to grow and market GMOs in the European Union.
"The options for the food industry are reformulation to change the ingredients in a product or label," a spokesperson for the European food manufacturers body the CIAA told FoodNavigator.com, adding that the only way to implement the new regulations for manufacturers was to have complete certificates from each supplier, heralding the launch of an infernal paper chain.
The new rules from Brussels - (EC) 1830/2003 on the Traceability and Labelling of GMOs and (EC) 1829/2003 on Genetically Modified (GM) Food and Feed - find their source in consumer suspicions of GM foods. The rules are set up to bring choice to the consumer - if they see 'GM ingredient' on the label they can decide to buy, or not. Today this option does not exist.
Under the new rules, a threshold of 0.9 per cent will apply for the accidental presence of GM material, below which labelling of food or feed is not required. But for the Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU (CIAA), the threshold versus derivative slant of the law could leave the door open to confusion for the consumer reading the label.
"Two different products will appear on the supermarket shelves - a product derived from GMOs but with no GM material present will be labelled as such, whereas a food product that has GM material present but which is under the threshold will not require a label. This could be misleading," said the CIAA, the voice of the €600 billion European food and drink industry.
When Brussels first mooted the rules, the food industry fell on the side of detectability. You either detect, or you don't, said the spokesperson. The rules coming into force on 18 April fall in favour of traceability.
"Third, fourth, fifth generation food ingredients derived from genetically modified foodstuffs will have to be labelled. A glucose syrup, for example, derived from starch, that in turn hails from a GM maize, will have to be labelled as such," said the CIAA.
Efforts are underway to help food and beverage manufacturers get to grips with the new rules. At a European level, the CIAA will issue in the next two weeks a 30 page guideline to be sent out to all members. Nationally, goverment agencies and industry bodies have set up consultations and workshops.
In the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have published draft documents that describe the scope of the new rules. In addition they have launched a formal consultation on the draft legislation, which includes penalties for breaking the new rules, a draft regulatory impact assessment and draft guidance notes for stakeholders.
The UK's Food and Drink Federation will hold a workshop for manufacturers on 19 April with speakers including Patrick Deboyser, head of food law and biotechnology at the European Commission, and Dr Clair Baynton, head of novel foods branch 1 at the FSA.