EU move on genetically modified food dismissed


IRISH opponents of genetically engineered foods dismissed as "grossly inadequate" yesterday's implementation by the European Commission of an amended directive on genetically modified foods.

It requires that genetically modified foods being introduced to EU markets in future be labelled to indicate modification.

Genetic Concern (GC) called on the incoming government to honour the Fianna Fail commitment made during the election campaign to introduce more stringent legislation on genetically modified foods in Ireland.

According to GC spokesman, Mr Quentin Gargan, the directive would not, for example, apply to US soya bean and maize, which is genetically engineered and already on sale in Europe - soya bean and maize are, to varying degrees, in more than 50 per cent of foodstuffs.

"This directive only applies to genetically modified organisms in their raw form, such as live seeds. This means that genetically modified wheat will have to be labelled, but not flour. Wheat seldom appears on my table but I eat flour every day," Mr Gargan said.

The move was welcome, nonetheless, in that it was a sign that the Commission was tackling the issue of segregating seeds by requiring that genetically modified seeds not be mixed with non genetically modified seeds. "The US policy of not segregating soyabean has been confronted. But the Commission should have gone further," he said.

The directive did not adequately address consumer labelling requirements. "The new government has to implement full disclosure labelling of all genetically modified ingredients, whether live or processed. It must apply to all items in the food chain.

Environment Commissioner Ms Ritt Bjerregaard proposed the changes under the terms of the 90/ 220/EEC directive. Notifiers (producers) of new products must indicate that the product may contain or consist of genetically modified organisms. For products in mixtures with other foods or food components, the label has to indicate the possible presence of genetically modified organisms.

This is a rear guard action, as the Commission was severely criticised for allowing genetically modified foods to be sold without labelling. Despite the efforts of the European Parliament and some member states, it cannot be applied retrospectively.

But the Commission has requested that genetically modified food producers, mostly large multinationals, introduce labelling voluntarily on genetically modified foods already in the marketplace or in relation to genetically modified foods under the pending applications heading.