Source: Brandon Mitchener, The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2002
BRUSSELS — In a vote reflecting deep divisions over biotechnology, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted narrowly in favor of more extensive labeling of foods and animal feeds containing genetically modified organisms.
The committee voted to require the European Union to require mandatory labeling for meat, dairy products and highly refined goods such as sugar and soybean oil produced from biotech ingredients — even if no remnants of genetic modification are detectable.
It also voted to lower the threshold at which mandatory labeling would kick in, setting it at 0.5% per ingredient instead of 1% per ingredient, and to forbid the sale of any products containing traces of biotech ingredients not authorized in the 15-nation EU, even if they are widely authorized and grown outside the EU.
The U.S., along with many food producers in both Europe and the U.S., has warned that such stricter labeling requirements would result in a de facto ban on all products with a biotech label. In fact, even in advance of the new rules, many supermarkets are declaring their shelves biotech-free zones. “This would cause huge problems,” said one U.S. government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Biotech products are subject to no special labeling at all in the U.S.
The committee vote is only preliminary. The European Parliament as a whole is scheduled to consider the committee’s recommendations later this summer, and the draft law also faces review by European capitals, the European Commission, which has objected to many of the amendments, and then a second reading in the parliament.
Center-right politicians, who hold the majority in the parliament as a whole, in the committee voted overwhelmingly for less onerous rules, arguing that the amendments ultimately voted through by the committee would cause trade friction, confuse consumers and invite fraudulent and deceptive labeling. But a coalition of Socialist and Green members supported stricter rules, which they argued are needed to help rebuild confidence of European consumers grown skittish in the wake of a series of food scares.
Geert Ritsema, a lobbyist for the environmentalist pressure group Friends of the Earth, which had campaigned for stricter rules, called the outcome “quite positive” from an environmentalist point of view. “All foods derived from genetically modified organisms have to be labeled,” he said.
If the amendments stick, that means labels will be required for highly refined soybean oils and sugars, along with meat and dairy products from animals fed on biotech corn and soybeans, although they contain no traces of genetically modified. The committee voted to require labeling on the basis of a complicated traceability scheme — essentially requiring a food ingredient to be labeled as biotech or non-biotech at each step of the food production process.