France defines GMO-free labelling threshold

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Genetically modified organism, Gm

The French government’s advisory council on biotechnology has outlined rules for a voluntary GMO-free labelling system in a new report.

Currently, there is no European regulation on what constitutes GMO-free, although products that contain more than 0.9 per cent genetically modified ingredients must indicate GM content. However this does not apply to meat and dairy products, with no requirement that a distinction be made between those that come from animals fed GM or non-GM feed.

The recommendations from the Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies​, which are expected to become law in the second half of 2010, include a 0.1 per cent threshold for genetically modified material in plant products and animal feed, and propose that public authorities should set a minimum distance between apiaries and fields where GM crops are grown. Labels could then designate plant products as ‘GMO-free’, animal products as ‘fed on GMO-free feed’ or ‘derived from animals fed without GM feed’, and honey as ‘biotech-free’.

The council said that setting “technically achievable and socially acceptable”​ thresholds would benefit food manufacturers and producers that take steps to avoid GM ingredients by distinguishing them on the market, while giving consumers the information necessary to choose GMO-free products. The labelling was proposed in response to the difficulties raised through the coexistence of GMO-free, conventional and organic production, the report said.

Commenting on the report, the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service said: “A number of French food companies (for example, companies producing high-quality free-range chickens) are likely to welcome such a regulation with a 0.1 percent threshold, which would allow them to publicize their efforts towards biotech-free products, make it a marketing tool, and thus justifying the higher than average prices of their products.”

French authorities have previously required a threshold of 0.01 per cent for GM material, meaning that labelling was not technically feasible.

The council has also suggested an intermediate label for those products in the “grey area” ​that contain between 0.1 per cent and 0.9 per cent GM ingredients during a phase-in period of five years, and it has invited comments to determine how such a label could best be worded to avoid consumer confusion.

The full report (in French) is available online here.

Related topics: Policy, Food labelling

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