France prepares 'GMO-free' labels
AgraEurope, 4 November 2009
France is set to create a set of voluntary 'GMO-free' labelling schemes to help conventional agricultural producers to distinguish their produce in the market, it emerged this week.
An opinion was submitted to the French government this week by the country's new High Council for Biotechnology, arguing for labelling standards which go beyond the EU framework and allow crop and livestock producers to cover the high costs of remaining 'GMO-free'.
The French government has pledged to draw up new laws on the basis of the High Council's recommendations.
The labelling options to distinguish produce as explicitly 'GMO-free' are suggested as a response to the difficulties in operating true 'coexistence' of GMO, conventional and organic sectors.
"All sectors having to coexist, and numerous operators finding themselves therefore having to resort to imported primary foodstuffs likely to contain GMOs, adventitious presence of transgenic DNA in foodstuffs is possible, and sometimes technically unavoidable", the opinion reads.
French moves to ramp up the labelling options come as the European Commission looks to diffuse tensions over biotech by pushing for wider GMO import approvals in order to avoid the rejection of conventional soy shipments 'contaminated' with traces of unauthorised GMOs.
0.1% threshold for 'GMO-free' plants
The body recommends a 'GMO-free' voluntary label for plant products containing less than 0.1% traces of GMOs. This is said to be the "lowest technically possible" ceiling that non-GMO producers can reasonably be asked to aspire to.
The EU currently operates an 0.9% threshold above which a product must be labelled as 'containing GMOs'.
A new 'GMO-free' label for those meeting the new threshold would allow producers to positively draw attention to their biotech-free farming techniques, suggesting that the EU threshold does not allow a sharp enough distinction to be drawn.
'Non-GMO fed' meat label?
For animal products a label along the lines of 'fed without GMOs' or 'derived from non-GMO fed animals' is advised for livestock-based products whose diet (throughout their whole life) respects the same 0.1% threshold for GMO presence.
EU rules currently offer no labelling distinction relating to the diet of livestock used for meat and dairy products.
A separate intermediary label could initially cover the 'grey area' between 0.1% and 0.9% GMO feed levels, the High Council suggests, citing major difficulties for livestock producers to source adequate levels of reliable non-GMO feed.
This option should nontheless be phased out within five years in order to encourage producers to work towards the 0.1% threshold, it is urged.
Added-value for conventional farmers
The High Council's opinion is geared towards providing 'added value' avenues for conventional producers who go to lengths to remain GMO free.
The High Council stops short of demanding a mandatory label for GMO-fed animal produce, preferring instead a voluntary option for those choosing to source -- as far as technically possible -- non-GMO feed.
Environmental NGO Friends of the Earth has meanwhile called on the EU to introduce mandatory labelling for meat and dairy products from livestock reared on a GMO-based diet.
Helen Holder, European GMO campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "The current loophole in EU labelling laws is very handy for the biotech industry, but not good for consumers who have no idea that the meat, dairy or eggs they are eating come from factory farms using genetically modified animal feed."
Biotech experts refuse coexistence study
A separate analysis of the economic costs involved in maintaining GMO-free production in the midst of 'technological pluralism' was also due from the High Council.
However, the body has stepped back from the task -- involving an analysis of the viability of contentious 'coexistence' policies -- claiming that it does not possess enough reliable data.
The High Council on Biotechnology was created last year, and is chaired by renowned French physicist Catherine Bréchignac, who was appointed president of the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) by the French government in 2006.