EU working on GM food laws

Rapid developments are on the horizon for genetically modified (GM) products. Despite opposition, consumers’ fears and research showing the hazards such products entail, it seems that the pressure being brought to bear is even greater. Even before European legislation is in force, the process of granting approval to GM corn variety Bt11 has begun. Bt11 has been implanted with a synthetic form of Bacillus thuringiensis so the plants will produce a toxin by themselves and thus gain protection from a caterpillar that plagues corn crops. This GM variety gained approval before the EU imposed a moratorium on GM products. Also pending is European legislation that concerns GM seeds and the way they are separated from conventional seeds to prevent mixing of the two types. This summer, two regulations were passed on the implementation of EU Directive 2001/18 concerning GM organisms, which has not yet been incorporated into Greek law. The first concerns «genetically modified foodstuffs and fodder» and stipulates that foodstuffs containing more than 0.9 percent of GM organisms must be labeled accordingly. The second, which concerns «detectability and labeling of genetically modified organisms,» defines the method of monitoring GM organisms throughout the food chain. The two regulations were published in the official European Union gazette on September 22, 2003 and, according to the law, enter into force 90 days later. However, since several decisions concerning implementation are still pending, implementation of the new legislation on GM products will begin on April 18, 2004. In order to implement the new legislation, which is deemed certain to overturn the EU moratorium on approval for new GM varieties, member states have to organize a monitoring system, which takes time. Although the process of approving new GM varieties has not formally begun, it seems that the European Commission – under pressure from the USA and the companies that produce GM products – is in a hurry to go ahead. A special committee to meet late this year will decide on approval of the Bt11 GM corn variety. It is thought likely that representatives of the member states will not grant approval because the EU monitoring system is not yet ready. Sowing the seeds of future problems The clause in the law referring to GM seeds, which is still pending, is highly significant. There seems to have been a hitch on this matter, since the European Commission assigned the task of working on it to another committee. But the regulation being drafted stipulates that there must be some «tolerance» if conventional seeds are contaminated with GM seeds, on the pretext that the seeds are not likely to get mixed up during transport or production. The proposals for the regulation mention that conventional seeds may legally contain up to a certain percentage of GM seeds without being so labeled. The limit is 0.3 percent for rapeseed, 0.5 percent for corn, sugar beet and cotton seeds, and 0.7 percent for soy seeds. These percentages are highly dangerous, however, because many GM plants may be produced in this way without farmers realizing what they are growing. According to a survey by Greenpeace, a limit of 0.5 percent contamination of conventional corn seeds by GM seeds may unintentionally produce 113,000,000 GM plants, or 356,000,000 plants in the case of cotton seeds.