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.