Bridges Trade BioResVolume 11Number 4 • 7th March 2011

EC Proposes Shift Away from Zero Tolerance on Biotech Imports


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The European Commission (EC) has endorsed an end to the policy of “zero tolerance” on genetically modified (GM) material in animal feed imports. If both the European Parliament and Council do not oppose the move, the threshold for unapproved GM material in imports for animal foodstuffs would be raised from 0 to .1 percent by summertime.

The Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) at the Commission is calling for the change to account for the accidental presence of a minute percentage of GM material coming from third countries in order to lessen the strain of the growing feed costs on the livestock industry.

Environmental groups, however, argue that the claims are baseless and say allowing unapproved GM materials into Europe is harmful to consumers and a slippery slope to permitting more GM materials enter EU markets.

While the Commission, industry, and exporting countries argue that the current, zero tolerance policy allows miniscule quantities of unauthorized GM materials to disrupt large-scale international trade to Europe, green groups say the position is not backed up by facts.

“If you look at the most official figures, we see that since mid September 2009, no single shipment of size destined to be animal feed in Europe was rejected because of contamination with GMOs not authorised in Europe,” says Greenpeace Europe spokeswoman Stefanie Hundsdorfer.

Feed market

According to Commission statistics, imports in animal feed products totalled some €15 billion last year, with 80 percent of these comprised of GM maize and soy from the US, Brazil, and Argentina.  While these imports represent a major source of protein for the EU’s livestock sector, pro-GM lobby groups insist that importers are reluctant to invest in large shipments due to fears of the current policy.

Through harmonising an implementation policy, says the Commission, the uncertainties faced by European feed producers in marketing feed made from imported raw materials and European farmers in satisfying their animal feed requirements, would be mitigated.

In a press release, the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC) describes the decision as “an important step towards more legal security” for manufacturers of feed and the European farmers in the fodder business. The issue is of particular importance of late with farmers now facing a major spike in world cereal prices.

Consumer safety

Members of the EU have been more hesitant towards GM crops than nations such as the US, Brazil, and Argentina because of concerns over consumer safety.  Approval of GM products in Europe is the job of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and all materials are required to undergo rigorous testing before being approved for commercial use.  Furthermore, all products that contain over .9 percent of GM ingredients must be properly labelled for European consumers (EC Regulation No. 1830/2003).

The new legislation would allow for minute amounts of GM materials to bypass EFSA testing before enter Europe’s borders. Though the .1 percent of materials would be required to be approved in a non-EU producing country and pending authorization at the EFSA, environmental groups argue that this violates the fundamental principles of Europe’s consumer protection.

“There is absolutely no reason to allow contaminated food to be fed to animals in Europe,” said Mute Schimpf of Friends of the Earth Europe. “Weakening safety rules to appease the animal feed industry compromises human and environment safety.”

If passed, the legislation would allow for the first ever non-authorised GM materials to enter onto EU soil. Voting on the issue at the European Parliament and Council will take place in the next three months.

European biotechnology policy has been a heated issue in recent years, with several member states eschewing official policy on the cultivation of GM crops and a proposal to partially decentralise the approval process (see Bridges Trade Biores, 7 February 2011).

The US has long been at odds with the EU over their policy on GM products, arguing that the approval procedure is too lengthy and not based on scientific evidence. In February 2006, the WTO ruled against the EU in a dispute filed by the US, Argentina, and Canada over the bloc’s arduous biotech approval process (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 17 February 2006).

“EU to Vote on Admitting GM Food” WALL STREET JOURNAL 22 February 2011; “EU moves to allow traces of GMO in feed” ASSOCIATED PRESS 26 February 2011; “EU experts approve trace GM in feed imports: Official” EURACTIV 23 February 2011; “EU experts approve trace GM in feed imports: official” REUTERS 22 February 2011; “Unauthorized GM crops could be allowed in British food chain for the first time after EU vote” THE TELEGRAPH 28 February 2011.

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