Under the new rules, all foods which contain or consist of GMOs or which are produced from GMOs will have to be labelled regardless of thepresence of GM material in the final product. A system that not only leans heavily on traceability, but leaves the door open to fraud.
"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," a spokesperson for the European food manufacturers body the CIAA told FoodNavigator.com, adding that the industry had argued from the outset that the legislation had gone too far.
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.
But not only this. The Commission has been under intense pressure from the biotech industry and the US to end the EU's de facto moratorium on GMs. The new rules on GM labelling open the way for an ultimate end to the ban and the introduction of new GM food crops into the European food chain.
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 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.
While the food industry prepares itself for an infernal paper chain, the start of the chain - the GM seed industry - must also be in line with the new rules.
"Seed companies are ready. This is an industry based on labelling," Simon Barber of biotech organisation Europabio told FoodNavigator.com.
While the food industry will have to extensively label GM food products in Europe, in fact food manufacturers have been reticient to use GM ingredients knowing that ultimately it didn't make sound business sense in a climate where the European consumer remains extremely suspicious of genetically modified foodstuffs.
"There are not many GM seeds being sold, apart from Spain where there about 30,000-40,000 hectares of GM maize," added Barber.
In order to help companies to find their way through the new requirements and to ensure a coherent application of the new obligations, the CIAA has developed a set of guidelines launched online last week.
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 is today holding a workshop for manufacturers 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.