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3-Food: European Consumer Union position on GE food

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Look abroad for mature attitude to GE debate
SOURCE: Financial Times - Asia Intelligence Wire, by John Palmer
DATE:   July 16, 2002

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Dear GENET-news readers,
recently, several pro-GE articles tried to create the impression that there 
is no real resistance against GMOs and GE food in Europe, especially the 
EU. One of those articles quotes the European Consumers Union (BEUC), which 
is not opposed to GMOs in principle, assuming that the claimed advantages 
of GMOs might have caused the view of BEUC. BEUC always argued that they 
are not against GMOs as such and they have been silent in the environmental 
debate in general. But they demand strict consumer safety and consumer 
information standards which have to be met before. Those demands where not 
reported by the New Zealand GE-protagonist. If he had told the readers 
about BEUC's demands he had to oppose them fiercely because they are not in 
line with the arguments of GE-promoters. The article than would have lost 
its main point - that there is no real GE resistance in Europe. 

Please read the recent BEUC document "Background Information for GMO 
dinner" below.

Hartmut Meyer


Look abroad for mature attitude to GE debate

16.07.2002 "The European Consumers Union is not opposed to GMOs." This is a 
quote from an address by Willemien Bax of the European Consumers 
Organisation to a conference I attended in Holland last month.


In plant breeding, there is a continual need to improve food and forage 
crops, both to feed a hungry world and ensure it is done in a biologically 
safer way. Of the six billion global population, a significant percentage 
already live in poverty. By 2025, the world population will have grown to 
eight billion, and we will either have helped to meet that growing food 
gap, or face the geo-political consequences of living smugly in the South 
Pacific. This challenge also provides economic opportunities for science, 
research and production in a range of products.

My own company, Wrightson, has an interest and investment in these areas. 
The frustration with the current argument is not just with its emotional 
blackmail, but with the opportunities it will deny to New Zealand. The 
prospect of breeding plants better able to tolerate drought or cold or high 
salt levels or highly toxic areas creates truly exciting possibilities in 
dealing with past pollution problems, and with sustainability.

Perhaps that's why the European Consumers Organisation has the view it 
does. Maybe it has recognised that there are so many potential benefits it 
is unwise to prevent cautious introduction of GMOs.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Background Information for GMO dinner
SOURCE: BEUC Document /X/022/2002
DATE:   June 3, 2002

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Background Information for GMO dinner

Genetic modification is a major new technology with the potential to change 
our lives; but it must not be imposed on consumers without their knowledge. 
Only one or two years ago it was claimed that the preservation of a non-GM 
alternative would require separate handling facilities at every stage of 
the food chain, making segregation impossible. It has now been proven that 
it is entirely possible to segregate GM material from non-GM material 
throughout the entire food production, processing and distribution chain. 
It has, however, also been recognised that adventitious or accidental 
contamination with GMOs is almost impossible to avoid.


Authorised GMOs

- We demand that the maximum acceptable level of adventitious contamination 
of commodity products such as maize and soya be set at 1%. It is important 
that this threshold is kept under review with the aim of reducing it, as 
the supply chain becomes more sophisticated.
- Lower threshold levels should be applied on a case by case basis for 
whole/single products, such as fish, apples or tomatoes and be set as low 
as technically possible.
- The discussion on seeds currently underway (the Commission has issued a 
working document on this issue) is an important part of the GMO discussion, 
as seeds are the main source of adventitious contamination of both feed and 

Non-authorised GMOs

- Thresholds for adventitious contamination with non-authorised GMOs are 
only acceptable if the product has been subject to a positive EU risk 
assessment procedure under 2001/18/EC for live GMOs and under the relevant 
procedures dealing with GMO-derived food and feed. Moreover, a final risk 
management decision (by the European Commission) should also be taken.
- All appropriate steps must be taken to avoid contamination, through good 
farming practices (such as segregation of crops, etc.).
- Validated testing and sampling methods must be developed.
- Suitable reference material must be available to contribute to the 
assessment procedure, as this is necessary for identification. In this 
respect, it is essential that the EU establish a workable world-wide 
database of GMO material.

Labelling (page 4 studies 3,4,5,6,7)

- Consumers should be able to choose whether or not to buy GM foods through 
clear labelling.
- There is a risk that consumers will assume that unlabelled foods are not 
produced from GMs. This could be misleading, because some ingredients 
derived from GMOs might not contain GMO derived protein or DNA any longer 
following technological treatment.
- Some consumers do not want to eat any products derived from GMOs, even if 
GM ingredients cannot technically be distinguished from the traditional 
equivalent. For this reason, we call for technology labelling, but this 
requires the tracing of ingredients throughout the food chain.
- Scientific detection of GMO in the final product is a useful 
complementary tool to verify that labelling is accurate and honest, but not 
the only possibility to verify the correctness of labelling claims. In many 
other cases paper trials are used to check the correctness of labelling 
claims, without being able to properly test by physical, chemical or 
biological means. Similar paper trial procedures are used to check beef 
labelling, labelling of organic produce, labelling of products with 
recognised protected origin, and others.

GM-free labelling

- GM free labels have a lot of potential to mislead, as adventitious 
contamination can never be entirely excluded.
- A number of studies have found organic food or feed contaminated with 
GMOs, or GMOs in products claiming to be GM-free. (page 4, studies: 1, 2, 
- Rules for GMO-free labelling have so far only been established in three 
EU countries: Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. While in Austria there 
are some products on the market (as they have their own GMO-free soya 
production) in Germany and the Netherlands there are hardly GM-free 
products available.
- In the other EU countries no rules for GMO-free labelling have been 
established, yet products labelled GMO-free are on the market. (page 4, 
point 9).
- Recent research, such as the December 2001 issue of the Eurobarometer, 
demonstrates that consumers who want to avoid eating GM food are currently 
in the majority. Due to these findings and likely consumer demand, we fear 
that GM-free products would become premium products, and much more 
- We also do not see why consumers should have to pay more for what is a 
'standard' product and fear that low-income consumers would be 
disproportionately disadvantaged.


Labels must indicate that a product is produced from GMOs if it:
- has been produced without using Identity Preservation and contains 
detectable levels of GM material or derivatives (as IP is not used, no 
threshold applies, thus even GM presence below the accepted thresholds must 
be declared on the label);
- has been produced without using Identity Preservation and GMO derived 
protein or DNA are no longer detectable;
- has been produced using Identity Preservation (i.e. segregation of GMOs 
from non-GMOs) but contains detectable levels of GM material and 
ingredients produced from GMO exceeding the maximum 1% threshold for 
commodity products, and exceeding possible lower thresholds to be set for 
single products such as fish, apple and tomatoes;
- has been produced using Identity Preservation, but nevertheless exceeding 
the 1 % threshold in the raw material, while the presence of GMO derived 
protein or DNA can no longer be detected or tested for in the final food 
product (such as soya oil or sugar for which there is no possibility to 

GMO labelling studies conducted by BEUC members and others

1. In June 2001 the Danish Plant Directorate (the controlling authority) 
found GMOs in 42% of 48 samples of organic feed, 17% contained more than 
the maximum threshold, i.e. 1%.

2. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) conducted a survey in 2001 
focusing on the presence of GMOs in dried soy products, soy substitutes for 
diary products and soy infant formulae. 18 of the 37 samples contained GM 
ingredients. None of the samples contained GMOs at the threshold level, 
however a number of the products were labelled to indicate that they 
contained no GM ingredients.

3. A study of some 30 products conducted by BEUC«s Italian member 
organisation, Altroconsumo, in June 1999, found a high percentage of GMOs 
(7.6% and 24%) in two products that were not labelled.

4. A study of 300 products conducted by the Chamber of Commerce of Turin in 
December 2001, found that 20.6% of the products containing GMOs had not 
been labelled, and that of the 47 organic products studied, 15.5% (7 
products) contained GMOs. Two of the 12 products that claimed to be GMO-
free were found to contain GMOs, and a snack food for pets was found to be 
100% GMO.

5. In the summer of 1999, OCU, the Spanish BEUC member organisation, 
conducted a test of 30 products. In two baby food products- for babies less 
than four months old- and one soya dessert, GMOs were found above the 1% 
threshold, yet these products were not labelled.

6. In January 2002 the UK Standards Agency found 31 bakery foods out of a 
sample of 203 to contain genetically modified (GM) soya. Of the 31 positive 
products, 19 contained quantifiable amounts of GM soya and a further 12 
contained unquantified 'traces' of the material. The labels did not state 
that these products contained GMOs (Press release: The Food Commission of 7 
February 2002).

7. UFC Que Choisir, BEUC's French member, tested 88 products in January 
1999. Only one product mentioned the presence of GM on its label, but GMOs 
were found in an additional eight products.

8. Tests conducted by Stiftung Warentest, a German BEUC member, on 82 
products in 2000, indicated that 31 contained GMOs although mostly in 
traces only. Three imported products contained amounts of GMO that needed 
to be labelled, i.e. 2-3 %.

9. In Belgium products labelled "GMO-free" are on the market while no rules 
for GMO-free labelling have been established.

10. Finally, Stiftung Warentest is currently testing commercial products 
from six different European countries (France, Germany, Austria, Poland, 
Island and Slovenia) for GMOs. Test results are expected within the next 
few months. (Project 2001/12807.00, title: Genetically modified maize and 
genetically modified soya in foods - a contribution to informing consumers 
and thus enabling them to make a free choice on what they buy).

Bureau Europeen des Unions de Consommateurs
Avenue de Tervueren 36, bte 4
B-1040 Bruxelles
Tel: +32(0)27 43 15 90
Fax: +32(0)27 40 28 02
Contact : Beate Kettlitz
Email :


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