BRUSSELS, Nov 28, 2002 (AFP) – EU farm ministers Thursday agreed new rules
label food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have
been embraced by the United States but remain deeply suspect in Europe.

With public passions running high over so-called “Frankenstein foods”,
the ministers spent a day of tough haggling before agreeing a compromise
accord put forward by the European Union’s Danish presidency.

The agreement could set the stage for lifting a ban on GMOs in place in
seven EU countries since 1999.

A majority of ministers accepted that food or animal feed containing
more than 0.9 percent of genetically altered ingredients should be
automatically labelled.

They also agreed to a maximum permissible level of 0.5 percent for food
and feed that accidentally contains unauthorised GMOs.

“We have a qualified majority for our proposal,” Danish Agriculture
Minister Mariann Fischer Boel said, praising the “bravery” of her

The Danish presidency had proposed labelling food which contains more
than one percent of GMOs, and a 0.5 percent threshold for the accidental

The Danes eventually brought France, Germany and Italy — which all
wanted much tighter restrictions for labelling — on side.

Britain, however, voted against, arguing the agreement was too
restrictive. But under the qualified majority rule, it was unable to
veto the accord.

A British diplomat said that with current technology, it was “simply not
possible” to test GMO levels under 1.0 percent.

Fischer Boel had earlier warned of the failure to reach an accord.

“It is crucial that we do adopt a proposal because we have now a
situation where we have no labelling of foodstuffs and feed,” she told
the meeting. An agreement “would be a major step in the right

The EU last month agreed new guidelines for the eventual cultivation of
GMO crops, seen as a preliminary step to lifting the ban in the seven
nations — Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and

But public disquiet about the technology is deeply entrenched.

Opinion polls by the European Commission suggest 94 percent of EU
citizens want to have the right to choose between GM and naturally grown
foods, with nearly 60 percent fearful that genetically engineered crops
could damage the environment and affect human’s health.

“European consumers have been denied proper information about GMOs in
their food for too long,” Friends of the Earth campaigner Adrian Bebb

“It is now time for a change. Ministers must give their backing to
comprehensive new GM labelling rules,” he said.

The EU agreement represented a rebuff to the European Parliament, which
in July voted for the labelling of food to begin at 0.5 percent.

In the United States, the GMO industry has grown into a major player and
US officials want a more relaxed approach from the Europeans.

The debate has turned nasty with Washington accusing the EU of being
complicit in a brewing famine in southern Africa because of its GMO
stance. Several affected countries including Zambia have refused US food
aid that may contain GMOs.

Ubusiness, 28th November 2002

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Written by Adrian Bebb

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