EU has opened door to GM in organics, say activists

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Genetically modified organism

Environmental groups have hit out at the new organic regulation on
which EU agriculture ministers reached political agreement this
week, claiming it opens the door for GMOs in organic foods.

The new organic regulation and labelling, which will come into force in January 2009, is intended to simplify the sector for farmers and consumers and is expected to help drive further development, according to the European Commission. However the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Europe is at loggerheads with the organic ethos, and organic advocates are highly sensitive to the possibility of GM contamination. Under the new regulation, organic food can still be labelled as such if it contains up to 0.9 per cent GMOs, the presence of which is "adventitious or technically unavoidable".​ In April the European Parliament voted to set the threshold for genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in organic food at the lowest level possible. This was interpreted by The Soil Association as being 0.1 per cent. Throughout the legislative process critics of gene technology, including Greece, Italy and Austria, have been vehement in their opposition to the 0.9 per cent threshold; whereas in the UK the government's support for this limit elicited criticism from The Soil Association and the Food and Drink Federation. EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said last year that a GMO threshold of less than 0.9 per cent would increase costs in organic agriculture. According to Helen Holder, GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, the new regulation means there is a need for cross-border legislation to protect organic and conventional farmers from "genetic pollution".​ "Now that the EU has declared traces of genetic contamination in organic crops acceptable, organic farmers will find it increasingly difficult to keep their crops GM-free,"​ she said. Marco Contiero, policy officer at Greenpeace EU unit, said that the new regulation opens the way for genetically modified material to start slipping into all organic food. However architects of the new regulation say it actually closes a loophole that existed under the old 1991 regulation, whereby the unintended presence of genetically modified organisms above the 0.9 per cent did not preclude products being sold as organic. Now, however, GMO products are still strictly banned for use in organic production, and the 0.9 per cent accidental approved GMO threshold applies also to organic food. ​Contiero said that the European Commission and some member states have taken a lax attitude to contamination, disregarding the preferences of European consumers and potentially putting the whole organic sector at risk. A report on countries' implementation of EC guidelines on growing GM crops is currently in the works, and the need for an EU-wide law will be assessed next year.

Related topics: Policy, Fruit, vegetable, nut ingredients

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