GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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EP Accepts Pro-Industry Labeling Law



    By Gillian Handyside     STRASBOURG, Jan 16 (Reuter) - The European
Parliament cleared controversial rules on Thursday for marketing and
labelling genetically modified and other "novel" foods in the European Union.


    A large majority of Euro-MPs voted in favour of the legislation, despite
criticism from environmental groups that its labelling requirements were too
lax. 

    The vote, 339 to 60, was critical since the parliament had the power to
block the legislation. 

    The parliament's move was welcomed by a biotechnology industry group,
EuropaBio, which said it was a "vital" piece of legislation that would make
industry more confident about how to bring new foods to the market. 

    But it was blasted by the environmental group Greenpeace, which has led
Europe-wide protests against gene-modified crops and foods. It called it a
"slap in the face for European consumers." 

    Genetic engineering allows beer to ferment faster, cheese to mature
quicker, pigs to grow larger, tomatoes to age more slowly and cereals to
resist pests. 

    Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, a German Socialist who was in charge of the
legislation, told the assembly the final compromise -- worked out with EU
governments -- was inadequate but urged Euro-MPs to accept it rather than
leave a legal vacuum. 

    Her report argued that consumers, manufacturers and traders all wanted
binding EU-wide rules on labelling novel foods and that even imperfect
legislation was better than a situation in which the EU had a single market
but 15 different national laws. 

    The regulation, which directly replaces national rules, requires
manufacturers to indicate to consumers when a product contains a "live"
genetically altered element -- that is, one that can grow if given soil or
water. 

    They will also have to label novel foods shown by scientific analysis to
be significantly different from conventional foods. 

The wording of these labels will be largely left up to the manufacturers. 

    Foods produced using genetically altered raw materials which are no
longer present in the final product, such as milk from cows fed on
genetically modified grains, will not be labelled. 

    The regulation says bulk deliveries containing both conventional and
genetically modified types of soya, maize and other goods do not have to be
labelled, so long as "information for consumers on the possibility that
genetically modified organisms may be present" is provided. 

    Producers can market novel foods which are "essentially equivalent" to
traditional ones so long as they notify the European Commission. These will
not be labelled and will not go through rigorous health and safety tests
before authorisation. 

    Andrew Dickson, secretary general of EuropaBio, said the legislation
would increase transparency and give consumers more confidence. 

    "It will certainly clarify the situation," he told Reuters. 

"Industry will be more confident now of the basis on which novel foods can be
brought to the market." 

    But Greenpeace cited a survey released last week showing that 59 percent
of Danes, Dutch, Frenchmen, Britons, Italians and Swedes opposed genetically
engineered foods. 

13:27 01-16-97