GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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EU Commission Proposes New GMO Labeling Law



      By Patrick Chalmers 

    BRUSSELS (Reuter) - Companies selling gene-modified farm products such as
corn, soybeans and other crops in the European Union will soon have to label
them as such, according to European Commission proposals adopted Wednesday. 

    A Commission statement said the draft rules, which EU country experts
must approve before they become law, mean companies would label their
products ``may contain or may consist of genetically modified organisms.'' 

    European consumer concern about genetically modified organisms and food
safety in general has grown since the continent's outbreak of ``mad cow''
disease, the fatal brain-wasting condition in cattle, and its perceived
mishandling by Britain and the European Commission. 

    ``The Commission has responded as quickly and efficiently as possible to
the growing concern in the general public which has been focused in
particular on the absence of specific labelling of genetically modified
products,'' European Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard said in the
statement. 

    ``This is a first step only and will be followed by further proposals for
legislation in this field,'' she said, a reference to Commission plans for
labelling rules for seeds and animal feed containing genetically modified
organisms. 

    Wednesday's proposal would not impose labelling obligations on subsequent
users of any released genetically modified organisms. Nor would they apply to
organisms already approved for EU release, such as Ciba Geigy's
insect-resistant Bt-corn or Monsanto's weed killer-resistant soybeans. 

    EuropaBio, the European Association of Bioindustries, said recently its
members would encourage farmers and intermediate processors of gene-altered
products to pass ``appropriate information'' about such crops on to their
customers. 

    The environmental group Greenpeace dismissed Wednesday's proposals as
inadequate, saying they did nothing to inform consumers or to force
separation of genetically modified or non-gene-altered products. 

    Greenpeace has fought the market release of Monsanto's gene-altered
soybean, grown commercially for the first time in last year's U.S. harvest
and sold unlabelled in the EU despite the protests of the EuroCommerce, the
European association of European retailers and wholesalers. 

    Wednesday's changes will not apply to 11 products submitted for EU
release approval, although the Commission has said it will encourage
submitting companies to comply voluntarily. 

    The term genetically modified organisms refers to living animals and
plants whose genes have been artificially altered to enhance certain
characteristics. The technology is controversial because of disagreement
about the unpredictability of environmental effects caused by widepread
release of such products. 

16:13 04-02-97