The Commission is due to adopt a proposal for a Decision "establishing minimum thresholds for adventitious or technically unavoidable traces of genetically modified seeds in other products" on 8 September.
But according to the coalition (which consists of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the European Environmental Bureau, Coldiretti, Europe's largest farmers' organisation, international organic movement IFOAM, the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism trade unions and Eurocoop, the European consumer co-operatives association), the proposal would allow maize and oilseed rape seed lots to contain up to 0.3 per cent of genetically modified organisms without being labelled - and mark the end of consumer freedom of choice.
The previous rules allowed for a threshold of 0.9 per cent for the accidental presence of GM material.
"[This Decision] provides no guarantee that farmers and the food industry will be able to continue offering non-GM products below the 0.9 per cent labelling threshold for final products," said Eric Gall, policy advisor for Greenpeace's European unit. "It will also load serious additional costs on economic operators all along the production chain."
Moreover, the Decision will effectively tie the hands of national governments wanting to protect traditional farming techniques in their own countries. "EU member states, which are supposed to develop national legislation to protect conventional and organic farming from GMO contamination, will be left no room for manoeuvre," said Marco Schlüter of IFOAM Europe.
"The next European Commission will also be deprived the chance to take a more considered view on the issue of 'co-existence' … a problem that is crucial for the future of non-GM farming in Europe."
The Commission is also flying in the face of opposition from almost all the interested parties, including the European Parliament, which passed a resolution in December last year calling for the seeds labelling threshold to be set at the reliable detection level of 0.1 per cent.
Stefano Masini from Coldiretti warned that the decision would hinder the ongoing reform of the CAP: "High quality agriculture, which is at the core of the new Common Agricultural Policy, will be damaged if unlabelled contamination of seeds is allowed." The organisations also argue that consumer antipathy towards GM products is still very high, despite the lifting of the de facto moratorium on new GM approvals earlier this year - a change of stance by the Commission which was widely believed to be due to international pressure from the US, where GM plantings are widespread.
"There is no need to rush through this decision. The vast majority of conventional seeds on the EU market today, including imported seeds, are not contaminated with GMOs. It would be irresponsible for the outgoing Commission to leave us with a proposal that contradicts its promises to guarantee 'co-existence' and freedom of choice for consumers," said Donal Walshe director of Eurocoop.
The groups claimed that allowing what they called "contamination of seeds" would make it increasingly hard for farmers to offer non-GM products to consumers - despite the overwhelming demand for GM-free food - and would increase the cost of co-existence (of GM and non-GM foods), costs which will have to be shared throughout the food chain, ultimately resulting in more expensive food.
The EU has the toughest rules on GM labelling in the world, with mandatory labelling covering countless food products. The new rules, which came into force in April, require all foods which contain or consist of GMOs or which are produced from GMOs to be labelled regardless of the presence of GM material in the final product.
Critics of the rules have already claimed that they do not make sense: "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," commented the CIAA, the voice of the €600 billion European food industry, back in April.
But with around 300 genetically modified maize plants and more than 2,000 GM oilseed rape plants now set to be allowed to grow on every hectare of supposedly GM-free fields in Europe, "without farmers even knowing about it,", according to the coalition, the confusion is only likely to increase, with more food than ever before likely to be made from some form of GM crop but with even less likelihood of any mention of genetic modification ever being mentioned on the label.